JIU/REP/2018/3: JIU Review of Management and Administration in the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)

The Joint Inspection Unit has recently completed a review of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS). UNOPS is a unique entity among the United Nations system organizations acting as the operational arm of the United Nations supporting the implementation of its partners’ peace building, humanitarian and development projects around the world with an annual portfolio of around a thousand projects, a total project delivery of 1.45 billion USD in 2016 and a workforce of around 4,000. The review confirms the specific culture of the organization with a high degree of flexibility and a strong business orientation while at the same time striving to add value to its partners’ activities. The report examines the efficiency and effectiveness of UNOPS policies and procedures in the management and administration of the organization while recognizing the unique features of UNOPS, in particular its self-financing nature and no mandate other than the delivery of services to partners inside and outside the United Nations system. The Inspector makes three formal recommendations: two are addressed to the Executive Director and one to the UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS Executive Board which are expected to strengthen integrity and accountability as well as efficiency and coherence.

Created in 1973 and made a separate and identifiable entity of the United Nations in 1995, UNOPS has over the course of years successively realigned its internal structures and business approaches to the changing environment and the needs of its partners, notably for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Against this background, UNOPS introduced in 2016 a major management reform programme, which led, among other things, to the adoption of a new organizational structure and a new legislative framework.

The review of UNOPS oversight functions identified a well-established and comprehensive oversight framework in place. The findings, however, indicated the need to fully align the terms of reference of its Audit Advisory Committee to the requirements of leading practices and good governance, particularly with regard to mandate, independence and membership of this important committee. Ethical standards and integrity are crucial elements of the United Nations accountability framework. When reviewing the resources and activities of the UNOPS ethics office, some shortcomings were identified. A second recommendation therefore calls for measures to strengthen the UNOPS ethics function, in particular through the establishment of a full-time staff position at senior level and additional financial resources.

The UNOPS operational reserve was established in 1997 to protect the organization and its partners against risks associated with project delivery. UNOPS has experienced strong growth of its portfolio and in total project delivery in recent years, resulting in an increasing annual net surplus. As a result, the volume of its operational reserve has grown accordingly and stands far above the required minimum. Noting the work in progress, the review recommends to revisit the status of the operational reserve and for it to be discussed by the Executive Board at regular intervals.

In the full report, the reader will find a series of supplementary informal recommendations aimed, as are the finding of the review, to support member States and UNOPS executive management in their decision-making on improving the organizational framework and related practices. The Inspector will introduce the report at the joint UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS Executive Board second regular session on 4 to 7 September 2018, during the UNOPS dedicated segment.