I am speaking on behalf of the European Union as a donor and partner.
We would like to thank UNHCR for the overview of the internal audit activities undertaken by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) as well as the presentation of the Annual Report of the Independent Audit and Oversight Committee for 2020-2021.
We welcome the core priority areas identified by OIOS and appreciate the decision to include additional five new engagements, strictly linked to the pandemic response.
We take not that only four out of 98 recommendations are critical. However, we are concerned that one of the four is related to implementing partners. We understand that more than an half of UNHCR’s field programme budget is implemented through partners. Therefore, it is crucial to address speedily systematic issues which could have a serious impact on the performance of the organization. This holds particularly true at a time when UNHCR has been able grant more flexibility to partners to facilitate COVID-19 emergency response. We are also concerned that seven critical recommendations were overdue as of June 2021. Therefore, we would welcome an update by UNHCR Management on these two issues.
Regarding the regular annual audit released by the Independent Audit and Oversight Committee, we welcome the Committee’s positive opinion about the capacity of UNHCR’s senior team to adapt the response to the pandemic while at the same time carry on its holistic internal reform. We do recognize that UNHCR’s transformation is taking place in a challenging moment and appreciate the efforts made. We also welcome regular updates on the progress of the transformation process.
At the same time, we fully support the Committee’s call for attention, in particular as regards fraud and corruption and consolidation of systems for reporting misconduct. We also ask UNHCR to specify the planned steps to clarify roles and responsibilities in the fraud accountability framework and reporting lines of key stakeholders.
Furthermore, we do believe that robust efforts need to be made to simplify the compliance process and make sure that all investigations are conducted following the highest standards. Therefore, we support the “one-stop shop” approach proposed by the Committee.
We welcome the Committee’s findings of progress in relation to prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse. We would like to seize this opportunity to reiterate that the EU adopts a zero tolerance for sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment and that we endorse a victim-centred approach. Therefore, we invite UNHCR to pay particular attention to fact that more then one third of cases presented to the Ombudsman from 2020 to March 2021 involved allegations of discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation and abuse of power. A transparent approach is key to partnership. Therefore, we encourage UNHCR to share with donors proactively relevant studies, analysis and data on this key subject.
Lastly, as regards the intention to adopt new financial regulations, we regret that this proposal was brought to the attention of donors and Member States with such short notice, giving no time for proper consultations and discussions. While we generally support UNHCR’s internal transformation and ambition to increase efficiency and simplify structures and procedures, we believe that is crucial for donors to understand the full implications of this proposal, not only procedurally but to have a better idea what the future new financial regulations may look like and its implication for UNHCR operations and funding. We therefore encourage UNHCR to follow up and ensure that donors understand the full consequences for contractual and financial relations of this proposal.