JIU/REP/2019/6 Review of audit and oversight committees in the United Nations system

The present report reviews audit and oversight committees, which are functions at the center of the governance mechanisms of United Nations system organizations with the potential to enhance transparency and accountability, and efficient and effective use of member States’ resources.

Audit and oversight committees have a critical role to play as independent expert advisory bodies that provide objective advice and recommendations on various aspects of an organization’s governance, risk management, and internal control processes.

The analysis of the 18 audit and oversight committees of United Nations system organizations examined during this review revealed considerable progress over the last decade, with the scope, content, and quality of the terms of reference or charter of the committees having considerably improved. Notwithstanding this progress, the United Nations system still has some way to go to meet the thirteen criteria for good practices for audit and oversight committees identified by the JIU.

At present, audit and oversight committees have varying responsibilities, scope, composition, size, titles, reporting lines and degrees and levels of independence, although the Representatives of Internal Audit Services (RIAS) of the United Nations system organizations, multilateral financial institutions and other associated intergovernmental organizations introduced a common definition in 2008. When it comes to reporting arrangements, for example, the review found that of the 18 committees reviewed, seven report to the executive head only – which is not a good practice for independence. Other Committees either report directly to the governing body (five) or to both the governing body and the executive head of the organization (six). Other good practices highlighted by the JIU include the requirements for geographical and gender balance in the composition of the committees, along with detailed conflict-of-interest guidelines, provisions for revising their charter or terms of reference, and criteria for assessing the performance of audit and oversight committees.

The report contains seven recommendations directed at the legislative and/or governing bodies of the United Nations system organizations. They recommend measures to: • Strengthen independence and reporting lines of the audit and oversight committees; • Include, in the committees’ terms of reference or charter, (i) all internal oversight responsibilities (such as oversight of ethics and anti-fraud activities), (ii) provisions related to internal control framework and risk management, and (iii) provisions related to the relevant skills and professional expertise of members; • Undertake committees’ self-assessments and independent performance evaluations; • Include emerging priorities and new challenges by periodically revising and updating respective committees’ terms of reference or charters. To read the full report please click on the title of this story.