Time for action

The UN budget, reflecting many extra calls on its services, has risen
dramatically in the last 5 years. It now stands at over $2.1bn (£1.1bn). And the
indications are that both work and funds required to pay for them will increase
still further.

But changes to the mechanisms for ensuring that the funds are properly
planned, monitored and controlled have lagged the UN’s needs and best practice
around the world. The oil-for-food scandal was only one indication that all was
not well.

Against this background, the General Assembly asked the Secretary-General to
review governance and oversight. I was one of a group of six from around the
world asked to provide independent advice as a Steering Committee for the work
of consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers. The report was delivered in the summer
and is now under discussion at the UN. It provides a blueprint for essential
reform based on best practice internationally while respecting the unique nature
of the organisation.

Most of the changes are based on well-established practice and include:

• a new UN code of governance

• setting up a UN audit committee

• establishing a clear internal audit role for the Office of Internal
Oversight Services

• systematic risk management

• strengthening a results-based approach

• giving management clearer responsibilities for evaluations

• strengthening the required qualification and nomination processes and
independence criteria for committees of experts and

• greater transparency in nomination and appointment

Putting these in will not be costly. Indeed there will be clarification and
simplification (even savings) from discontinuing arrangements where
accountability is ambiguous and which do not represent best practice.

But the proposed changes have upset some with an interest in the current
arrangements and others are fearful of change. So even the straightforward
proposals are under threat. And discussions on establishing the audit committee
have been muddied by questions of how appointments take place. The Group of 77
developing countries are concerned that the developed world will monopolise
professional posts.

These fears are unjustified. The report offers clear lines of responsibility
and accountability. The appointments process can preserve the ultimate authority
of the General Assembly while ensuring that appointments are based on merit and
relevant qualification. Key appointments can include the full participation of
the developing world, where there are many excellent possible candidates.

A UN with proper governance and oversight will use its scarce funds more
efficiently, will do its work more effectively and be properly accountable to
its member governments. More lives will be saved. There will be more peace per
buck. Faith in the UN can only be increased ­ it is doing nothing that will

The opportunity to establish a robust governance and oversight framework is
available right now, and should start with establishing a UN Audit Committee
(already approved in principle by the General Assembly). Individual member
states owe it to the rest of the world to make the essential changes without

Sir Andrew Likierman is professor of management practice at the London
Business School

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