Fifth Committee Delegates Ask Secretariat to Analyse Proposal on Ethics Office, Clarify Potential Impact across United Nations System

Delegates at the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today asked the Secretariat for a comprehensive analysis of its proposal to fortify the independence of the United Nations Ethics Office.

Emphasizing the crucial role held by the Ethics Office, Egypt’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said an analysis would help the General Assembly understand the impact any revisions have on the overall Organization.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), said the Secretariat’s proposal to strengthen the independence of the Ethics Office is not substantiated in its report. Any revisions to the stature, reporting line and governance structure of the Ethics Office would have significant consequences for the Secretariat and for the Organization as a whole, Mr. Massieu said as he introduced the Advisory Committee’s report on the topic.

Elia Yi Armstrong, Director, United Nations Ethics Office, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the Ethics Office’s activities for the period 1 August 2016 to 31 December 2017, which are transitional dates as the reporting schedule shifts to a calendar year. The Ethics Office helps the global Secretariat’s 40,000 staff members promote and sustain an ethical culture of integrity, accountability and transparency. As requested in General Assembly resolution 71/263, the report proposes several measures to strengthen the Office’s independence.

The United States delegate said the Ethics Office bolsters the Organization’s reform agenda by encouraging a culture of integrity and ethical standards. The United States supports efforts to increase its independence as a way to strengthen accountability and performance at the United Nations.

Aruna Thanabalasingam, Director, Strategic Planning Division, Office of Human Resources Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s sixteenth report on disciplinary matters and possible criminal behaviour. The 2018 report covers a six-month reporting period ending on 31 December 2017. The Office of Human Resources Management continues to make sure all staff are aware of the most common examples of misconduct and/or criminal behaviour, as well as the disciplinary consequences. The Department of Management has published an online compendium � covering the period beginning 1 July 2009 � of the disciplinary measures imposed by the Secretary-General on Secretariat staff members.

In other business today, the Fifth Committee elected by acclamation Hicham Oussihamou (Morocco) as its Rapporteur. This action completes the composition of the Secretariat Bureau.

Also speaking today was the representative of the European Union delegation.

The Fifth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. Monday, 15 October, to discuss the review of the efficiency of the administrative and financial functioning of the United Nations.

Human Resources Management

ARUNA THANABALASINGAM, Director, Strategic Planning Division, Office of Human Resources Management, introduced the sixteenth report of the Secretary General on his practice in disciplinary matters and possible criminal behaviour (document A/73/71).

Unusually, she said, the 2018 report covers a six-month reporting period, 1 July 2017 to 31 December 2017, while future reports will cover a 12-month calendar year. The first part of the report provides an overview of the legislative framework governing the investigative and disciplinary processes, he said, adding that the second part provides summaries of individual cases in which the Secretary General imposed one or more disciplinary measures during the reporting period.

The third part provides statistics on the cases that the Office of Human Resources Management has received, she said, adding that it also includes information on the overall outcome of appeals contesting disciplinary measures imposed since the system of justice was introduced in 2009 before the Dispute and Appeals Tribunals. The report’s last section provides information on the cases of proven misconduct and/or criminal behaviour in which the Organization informed Member States of the matter.

She said the Office of Human Resources Management continues to ensure that all staff are informed of the most common examples of misconduct and/or criminal behaviour and their disciplinary consequences. The Department of Management has published an online compendium � covering the period beginning on 1 July 2009 � of the disciplinary measures imposed by the Secretary-General on Secretariat staff members, she added.

ELIA YI ARMSTRONG, Director, United Nations Ethics Office, introduced the report of the Secretary-General on the activities of that Office for the period 1 August 2016 to 31 December 2017 (document A/73/89), a transitional period as the reporting period is shifting to a calendar year.

During that 17-month period, she said, the Office received 2,037 requests for services, including 1,490 for calendar 2017, being the largest number to date for a 12-month period. Just over half of those requests were for advice and guidance, and a third of those were inquiries about outside activities, she said. The Office also reviewed 5,504 confidential financial disclosure statements for the 2016 cycle and 5,811 for the 2017 cycle.

She said that the Office’s outreach activities included communicating to staff members the Secretary-General’s strengthened policy on protection against retaliation for reporting misconduct. During the transitional reporting period, the Office received 112 enquiries related to retaliation and initiated 39 preliminary reviews, with 12 prima facie determinations of retaliation.

The Ethics Office also supported other parts of the Organization in reviewing policy provisions pertaining to ethnics and integrity, she continued. It was also consulted on regulatory frameworks dealing with sexual harassment and sexual exploitation and abuse. She concluded by noting that the report proposes several measures for strengthening the independence of the Ethics Office, as requested by the General Assembly in its resolution 71/263.

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced that body’s related report (document A/73/183). He said the Advisory Committee concurs with the Secretary General’s report on disciplinary matters regarding the importance of ongoing monitoring of staff in the security function. Regarding the activities of the Ethics Office, he said greater clarity is needed in relation to baseline performance indicators and performance information relative to ethics standards. He said the Advisory Committee welcomes steps to implement a regular vetting process for senior officials prior to appointment, but more analysis of the pilot gift registry is required to evaluate its development and roll-out.

He went on to say that proposals for strengthening the independence of the Ethics Office are not substantiated in the Secretary-General’s report. Any revisions to the stature, reporting line and governance structure of the Ethics Office would have significant consequences for the Secretariat and for the Organization as a whole, he added, noting that the experience of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) in presenting its reports to the General Assembly is very relevant in that regard. Greater clarity and consistency are necessary in terms of linkages with the Secretary-General’s management reforms, he said, adding that, should the Secretary-General wish to make a fully justified proposal, his report should address such topics as the workload, structure and functions of the Ethics Office, as well as the implications for other Secretariat offices and oversight bodies.

Statements

KARIM ISMAIL (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said the bloc supports the Secretary-General’s efforts to improve human resources management as well as reforms that contribute to a highly motivated, diverse and dynamic workforce. The Group believes that the issues contained in the report are very important and asks the Secretary-General to keep Member States informed on an annual basis. With regard to the activities of the Ethics Office, he said the Group welcomes the steps taken to implement a regular vetting process and ensure that conflicts of interest are managed and mitigated at the senior management levels in the interest of the Organization. The Group also notes that requests for the Office’s services increased by more than 32 per cent during 2017, compared to the previous 12-month reporting period ending in July 2016. During the upcoming informal consultations, he said, the Group wishes to better understand the factors behind that increase, its impact on the work of the Office and its response to the increased workload.

At the same time, he continued, the Group notes the measures proposed by the Secretary-General for strengthening the independence of the Ethics Office, contained in paragraph 94 of the report. As recommended by the Advisory Committee, the Group wishes to clarify matters raised in that paragraph, he said. Emphasizing that the Ethics Office plays a very important role, he said the Group believes that revisions to its stature, reporting line and governance structure will significantly impact the overall Organization. Therefore, a comprehensive analysis of all related aspects of the proposal, and other applicable experiences, would help the General Assembly examine the issue. The Group notes the Joint Inspections Unit’s review of the mechanisms and policies addressing conflicts of interest in the United Nations system, he said, recalling that before the report, the Unit only partially examined conflict of interest, covering reviews on oversight, ethics, accountability, procurement and fraud. The Group, therefore, welcomes the system-wide review of existing regulatory frameworks for addressing conflicts of interest, he said.

LAURA DEMETRIS of the European Union said the bloc welcomes efforts to promote a culture of transparency and accountability within the United Nations, including by ensuring that the Organization is a safe place in which to work. To that extent, the European Union welcomes ongoing efforts to fully investigate alleged wrongdoing under Article 101 of the United Nations Charter, as well as efforts by the Ethics Office to mitigate potential conflicts of interest and protect whistle-blowers, she said, noting that such actions complement efforts to streamline the staff regulations and simplify human resources policies and procedures to ensure that they are well understood and respected. Welcoming the Secretary-General’s vision for human resource management, she said the European Union plans to comment on placement issues in the context of management reform.

BRIAN CONROY (United States) said the Ethics Office serves as a cornerstone for accountability on the part of the United Nations and underpins the Organization’s reform agenda by seeking to foster a culture of integrity and ethical standards. Describing its annual report as a testament to its hard work, the dedication of its staff and the vital nature of its services, he said that includes the successful pre-appointment reviews of senior United Nations officials and the financial disclosure programme. The United States commends the Secretary General’s leadership in strengthening protections from retaliation for people reporting wrongdoing, he said, noting that, in addition to carrying out an updated policy on whistle-blower protection, the actions of the Secretary-General and the efforts of the Ethics Office will help to shape an organizational culture in which all United Nations staff around the world are comfortable in reporting misconduct without fear of reprisals. Member States and the United Nations leadership must take every measure to ensure this transformation, he emphasized. The United States also supports efforts to increase the independence of the Ethics Office as a way to strengthen accountability and performance in the United Nations, he said, adding that his delegation will explore options to that end.

Source: United Nations