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Fréchette says UN to ensure best standards

Fréchette says UN to ensure best standards in procurement and internal oversight

The United Nations has already strengthened the professionalism and transparency of its procurement and internal oversight systems since the period described in an interim report critical of its management of the Iraqi Oil-for-Food programme and will take further steps as needed to ensure best practices and standards, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said today.

Such steps will include a new internal oversight committee to be set up shortly to consistently monitor management's responses and implementation of recommendations arising from the various audit and oversight bodies that already report.

"We believe we have introduced a lot of very significant changes in our procurement process," Ms. Fréchette told a news briefing, noting that much had happened since 1996, the period that was the object of review by former US Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker, named by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to head the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) into allegations of misconduct and mismanagement into the multi-billion dollar humanitarian programme.

"The internal rules for procurement have become much tighter and, more importantly, much more transparent than they were at the time of the episode described by the interim report of Mr. Volcker," she said. All purchasing requirements are now posted on the UN web site, progress of a transaction can be now be traced and details of the awards are also posted, she stressed.

"Nevertheless we do intend to take another look at our procurement system to make sure that it is consistent with best practices in other organizations," she added.

In his interim report, Mr. Volcker emphasized a "grave and continuing conflict of interest" with regard to Benon Sevan, head of the 1996-2003 Oil-for-Food programme, under which Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's sanctions-bound regime was allowed to sell oil for food and other humanitarian needs under UN monitoring. Mr. Volcker also found irregularities in procurement with UN officials violating the UN's own rules.

Ms. Fréchette noted that Mr. Volcker's concerns about the Secretariat's own ability to monitor and follow up on audit recommendations related specifically to the Iraqi programme.

"But he has identified a weakness in our management system that we intend to correct in order to ensure that we have a way to follow through on the recommendation of our various audit and oversight bodies," she said, referring to the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the Board of Auditors, which are the external auditors, and the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU).

"In order to do that we will set up an internal oversight committee which would consistently monitor the management responses and implementation status of the recommendations arising from these various oversight bodies," she added, stressing that at least one member would come from outside the Secretariat.

She recalled that in December Mr. Annan had already recommended to the General Assembly that they issue an independent assessment of the OIOS operation so as to strengthen its functions and independence, taking Mr. Volcker's recommendations into account. Mr. Annan recommended a multi-disciplinary panel of outside experts to undertake this assessment.

"As part of an organization-wide attempt to improve the openness and transparency of the organization, the Secretary-General intends to review in a more comprehensive fashion the ruling guidelines pertaining to access to UN documentation," she added, noting that there is no clear set of rules as to what is accessible and what is not.

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