Stressing that transparency is a precondition for accountability, the head of the United Nations internal oversight office today spotlighted the steps being taken to bolster the Organization's capacity to investigate allegations of fraud and corruption.
"Transparency is key and prerequisite for accountability and is really the DNA of oversight," Inga-Britt Ahlenius, Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), told reporters, adding that the public has the right to know what is going on within the world body.
Although the UN is an "extremely risk-exposed organization" with its staff working in exceptional circumstances, such as conflict and natural catastrophes, she stressed that "there is no excuse for having poor internal control mechanisms and for tolerating mismanagement" because "we are handling public money and considerable funds and should care about that as if it was our own money."
In January 2006, the OIOS Procurement Task Force (PTF) was set up in response to the release of the 2005 Oil-for-Food report, which found both misadministration and evidence of corruption.
The PTF, whose funding has been extended by the General Assembly until the end of this year, was created specifically to tackle challenges faced by the UN. It was established within OIOS so that its independence can be safeguarded under the resolution creating OIOS which grants the body operational independence, Ms. Ahlenius said.
To date, the PTF has submitted 25 reports which have found instances of mismanagement, fraud and corruption within the UN.
One of these cases, she pointed out, involved Sanjaya Bahel, a former senior United Nations procurement official, who was found guilty in a United States court last June of fraud. His conviction was obtained by the authorities "following evidence mainly found in the PTF report," she said.
Given that PTF, although an "integral part" of OIOS, is a pilot and therefore not a permanent body, the Under-Secretary-General said that measures are being taken to bolster and restructure the Office's investigation division.
One step being taken, she said, is to create specialized team functions in the division to reflect the two types of cases that are reported to OIOS: sexual exploitation and abuse cases; and financial, economic and administrative offences.
Additionally, Ms. Ahlenius said that she plans to relocate investigators currently in peacekeeping missions to three regional centres - New York, Vienna and Nairobi - comprising 110 posts.
She has received support for this proposal from the Department of Field Support (DFS), she said, and pending the approval of the General Assembly, "I am confident that by the end of this year, I will have established within OIOS a permanent and specialized capacity to effectively deal with sexual exploitation abuse cases, as well as financial, economic and administrative offences and crimes," she said at the press briefing.