Saturday, March 21, 2009

GAP BLOG: UN Watchdog Unit Under Fire

From GAP - Government Accountability Project
All Things Whistleblower (A GAP BLOG)

According to a Fox News story, the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) – the United Nation’s only independent oversight body with the authority to conduct system-wide investigations and evaluations – is under fire by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. A recent JIU report describes the Secretary-General’s interference with the normal procedures for appointing the JIU’s Executive Secretary, a post that has been vacant since December 2007. (It should be noted that JIU is not unique in this regard, as the SG has not named a permanent Director of the Investigations Division of the Office of Internal Oversight Services – the UN Secretariat’s investigative body – either, despite a two-year long search process). The report describes how the Secretary-General violated the JIU’s statutes and 40 years of practice by modifying appointment procedures after JIU recommended a candidate for Director.

The report also details how the UN bureaucracy has proposed supplanting JIU with the United Nations Evaluation Group (UNEG). It appears that UNEG is less independent and impartial than JIU, as it ultimately reports to the top executives of the various UN funds, agencies and programs, and its budget and agenda comes directly from these organizations. The JIU, on the other hand, reports to the UN General Assembly, although (in a less than ideal situation) it depends on the Secretariat for financing and administrative support. As a result, JIU has “stretched resources,” despite the thorough and impartial nature of many of its reports.

Two particularly noteworthy JIU reports are Oversight Lacunae in the United Nations System,” and “Corporate Consultancies in the United Nations System Organizations.” The “Lacunae” report identifies deficits in UN investigative bodies: many lack independence, resources and the capacity to conduct thorough investigations. The “Corporate” report found a “lack of accountability in the use of consultancy throughout the system” (click here for a story about this report).

JIU is slated to conduct several much needed and controversial accountability studies in 2009, including a review of UNESCO and the World Food Programme (two organizations about which GAP has received serious complaints).  Among the anticipated issues to be examined are the selection and conditions of service of executive heads in UN system organizations; the evaluation function in the UN system; and the extent to which management’s treatment of UN staff complies with international labor law and norms. GAP attaches special importance to this last investigation as whistleblowers routinely report violations of international labor laws at the UN.

-- Shelley Walden

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