The accountability system

UNCTAD is part of the United Nations Secretariat and operates under the United Nations Secretariat accountability framework. Key elements are described below.

A good overview of the accountability framework can also be found in annex 1 of the Secretary General's report "Towards an accountability system in the United Nations Secretariat" (A/64/640).

The accountability system of UNCTAD has seven main components:


1. The United Nations Charter
UN Charter

The basis of the UNCTAD accountability system is the United Nations Charter. According to the Charter, Member States are responsible for giving mandates (directives, priorities and targets) to the secretariat through the resolutions and decisions. The UNCTAD Secretary-General is responsible for implementing these mandates and reporting on outcomes and resources used.

UNCTAD's mandates come from the General Assembly and its subsidiary organs, ECOSOC and other conferences. The UNCTAD quadrennial conference (a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly) sets the four-year mandate and work priorities of the UNCTAD secretariat. UNCTAD also has its own separate governing body, the Trade and Development Board, established as a permanent subsidiary organ of the Conference, to oversee the work of the secretariat between quadrennial sessions.

In discharging responsibilities, the UNCTAD Secretary-General reflects these mandates in the programme and planning documents of the organization (the strategic framework and the programme budget). Programme managers and individual staff members — down the chain of responsibility —prepare their respective workplans with the purpose of achieving the results established therein.

2. The strategic framework and the programme budget

At the core of the accountability system is the UNCTAD biennial strategic framework [A/69/6 (Prog. 10)] and the programme budget [A/70/6 (Sect. 12)]. These documents represent the agreement with Member States on the results to be achieved (barring exogenous impacts) in a given cycle with the resources allocated by Member States. The strategic framework contains the overall orientation of UNCTAD and for each of the five subprogrammes, their objective, expected accomplishments (medium to long term), indicators of achievement and strategy for achieving results. The programme budget adds the outputs that deliver the expected accomplishments and the resources (post and non-post; regular and extra-budgetary) allocated by Member States to deliver the outputs. For each indicator of achievement, UNCTAD provides a baseline and target value.

Preparations for the UNCTAD strategic framework and programme budget start three years before the start of the biennium. The documents are reviewed in Geneva by the UNCTAD Working Party on the Strategic Framework and the Programme Budget and endorsed by the Trade and Development Board. They then go to the Committee for Programme Coordination (CPC) in New York before final review and approval by the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly.

Programme managers are accountable for the delivery of outputs and results contained in the strategic framework and programme budget. They are also responsible for fairly and accurately reporting on this, including through the web-based UN Secretariat platform IMDIS. The information reported is consolidated by the UN Department of Management and provided to Committee for Programme and Coordination through the biennial Programme Performance Report (2014-2015 report) as per the Regulations and Rules Governing Programme Planning, the Programme Aspects of the Budget, the Monitoring of Implementation and the Methods of Evaluation (ST/SGB/2016/6).

Strategic Framework 2014-2015 2016-2017 2018-2019
Programme Budget 2014-2015 2016-2017 2018-2019
3. Delivering results and performance

Results-based management (RBM) In 2006, the General Assembly mandated the United Nations Secretariat to implement RBM (A/RES/60/257). RBM is an overall approach to managing projects and programmes that goes beyond the achievement of outputs (publications, training workshops, intergovernmental meetings, etc.) to focus on their results (did we achieve what was intended with these outputs, what was the impact, how can we adapt or change to have greater impact, and so on).

It supports better performance and greater accountability by applying a clear logic: plan, manage and measure your intervention with a focus on the results you want to achieve. For UNCTAD, this means:

  • Defining measurable results and the means to achieve those results;
  • Aligning planning, programming and budgeting to desired results;
  • Establishing monitoring, reporting, knowledge management and evaluation systems to track and assess the achievement of results; and
  • Establishing a change management process that promotes organizational and cultural reforms necessary for the use of results information for learning, improvement and accountability.

The benchmarks and methodologies for implementing RBM have evolved over the last decade.

While key policies and standards on which to build a more results-oriented Secretariat already exist, the United Nations Secretary General has acknowledged that the availability of support, consistent guidance and procedures, tools and training needs to be increased (A/64/640, p.31).

On-going initiatives to improve RBM Therefore, in line with the RBM principle of continuously assessing what works/what does not and improving to deliver more effective results, UNCTAD has several on-going initiatives to improve the implementation of RBM throughout the organization.

For technical cooperation activities, the UNCTAD Deputy Secretary General launched on 1 July 2016 the Technical cooperation results framework (PDF) and a set of 'minimum requirements for RBM' (PDF). These are basic steps to be taken to ensure a focus on results throughout the project cycle. For example,

  • In-depth analysis of how the project can sustainably address the problems related to UNCTAD's mandate,
  • UNCTAD projects that add value to the market for technical cooperation,
  • Clearly defined indicators to measure the impact of UNCTAD projects,
  • Systematic and comprehensive monitoring and evaluation of results,
  • Regular reporting on results, including to our member states, and
  • Lessons about what works/what does not reflected in future projects.

Prior to the minimum requirements, implementation of these steps was ad hoc. The minimum requirements serve, inter alia, to:

  • bring all programme managers to the same minimum level for RBM;
  • offer sufficient flexibility to managers, while ensuring a high standard for RBM;
  • increase the relevance, efficiency, effectiveness (including impact) and sustainability of technical cooperation projects;
  • systematise the collection and analysis of evidence on results; and
  • increase evidence-based management decision-making.

Implementation of the minimum requirements supported by internal guidelines, project document templates, checklists to assess whether the minimum requirements are met, and clearly defined internal roles and responsibilities at each stage of the project cycle.

By the end of 2016, UNCTAD is aiming to also launch initiatives to improve RBM for its research and analysis work, and support to intergovernmental meetings.

4. Evaluation and learning

The Evaluation and Monitoring Unit (EMU)
UNCTAD's Evaluation and Monitoring Unit assesses UNCTAD's results overall through validation of monitoring data and independent evaluations. Specifically, EMU is responsible for:

  • Managing, conducting and supporting evaluations that generate objective evidence to support greater accountability and facilitate improved learning from past experience;
  • Consolidating and analysing programme performance data through the web-based UN Secretariat platform IMDIS;
  • Participating and contributing to inter-agency initiatives on evaluation, such as setting up evaluation standards or evaluation guidance materials;
  • Developing internal capacity for self-evaluation; and
  • Participating in the review of new project documents to clear the project monitoring and evaluation plan and ensure the evaluability of the logical framework.

The UNCTAD Evaluation Policy sets outs the principles followed by EMU in carrying out its responsibilities. UNCTAD has also adopted the UNEG norms and standards for evaluation in the UN system. The United Nations Evaluation Group (UNEG) is a professional network that brings together all the units responsible for evaluation in the UN system.

The UNEG norms seek to facilitate system-wide collaboration on evaluation by ensuring that evaluation entities within the UN follow agreed basic principles. They provide a reference for strengthening, professionalizing and improving the quality of evaluation in all entities of the United Nations system. The UNEG standards build upon the Norms for evaluation for the UN system and are drawn from best practice of UNEG members.

Other evaluation guides

The main types of evaluations conducted by UNCTAD are:

Independent evaluations commissioned by the Trade and Development Board

In-depth evaluation of an UNCTAD subprogramme each year, based on TDB agreed conclusion. The evaluation team consists of an independent external evaluator and two member state representatives, and is managed and assisted by EMU. The evaluation report and follow up on recommendations is submitted to the Working Party for review.

Independent evaluations commissioned by donor agencies and other external bodies

Donor agencies of trust-fund based activities may request that UNCTAD undertakes evaluations of their projects, either in the context of the project agreement or in a separate request at a later stage. Similarly, other external bodies, such as partner agencies or the management board of joint programmes may request external evaluations. These evaluations are undertaken by an independent external evaluator.

Independent evaluations of projects supported by the UN Development Account

All UN Development Account projects are subject to a mandatory evaluation at the end of the project. These evaluations are undertaken by an independent external evaluator and are managed by EMU.

Independent evaluations commissioned by the programme managers

Programme managers may commission external evaluations to assess and seek ways to improve their programmes. Programme managers must inform the Director of their respective Divisions, and the Evaluation Unit of the evaluation. The programme managers could expect technical advice and assistance from the Evaluation Unit in managing such evaluations.

Internal evaluations conducted by the Evaluation Unit

The Evaluation Unit may conduct evaluations at the request of management. While these evaluations are conducted internally, it may be assisted by external experts.

EMU reports are available here.

The annual report of EMU, 'Evaluation of UNCTAD activities: Overview' (2020, PDF), consolidates the main evaluation findings and lessons learned and is presented to the UNCTAD Working Party on the Strategic Framework and the Programme Budget.

5. Internal systems and controls

In achieving our objectives, UNCTAD staff members respect the regulations, rules and policies and follow the processes and procedures (i.e. the set of internal systems and controls) that guarantee the correct functioning of the organization.

These systems and controls provide reasonable assurance regarding operational effectiveness, adequate resource utilization, reliable financial reporting and compliance with relevant regulations, rules and policies. They include:

  • Staff Regulations and Rules and the Human Resources Handbook;
  • Financial Regulations and Rules and the Finance Manual;
  • Organizational systems for the selection and contracting of personnel;
  • The Ombudsman and/or administration of justice process to guarantee fairness in the functioning of the internal systems and controls.

UNCTAD also has a system of segregation of duties to strengthen internal controls and reduce the risk of errors and irregularities. Under this system, no single individual has control over all phases of a decision or transaction that involves organizational resources. This reduces the possibility that a single individual can breach the regulations, rules or procedures causing financial loss to the organization.

6. Ethical standards and Integrity

The core values and principles governing staff conduct and behaviour (ST/SGB/2002/13) are contained in the Charter of the United Nations, the standards of conduct for the international civil service, and the Staff Regulations and Rules. In addition, the Code of Ethics (A/64/316, annex) outlines the fundamental values and principles applicable to the discharge of official UNCTAD duties and responsibilities.

Additional information can be found on the Ethics Office website.

The Secretariat Ethics Office develops standards, training and provides confidential advice and guidance to staff on ethical issues such as conflicts of interest. The Office also oversees the ethics helpline, has responsibilities related to the protection of staff against retaliation for reporting misconduct or cooperating with duly authorized investigations, and administers the United Nations financial disclosure programme.

7. Independent oversight

Independent oversight of UNCTAD is carried out by four main bodies: the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the Joint Inspection Unit, the Board of Auditors and the Independent Audit Advisory Committee. A description of these four bodies follows.

The UN Secretariat Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS)
The mandate of OIOS is to promote good governance and accountability in the Organization by providing independent and objective oversight. It covers 38 UN Secretariat departments and programmes, as well as peacekeeping operations and special political missions. It is comprised of 1) internal audit, 2) inspection and evaluation, and 3) investigations. Internal audit and evaluation have a risk-based workplan that ensures cyclical coverage of UNCTAD. The Office looks at a range of areas e.g. internal controls, strategic planning, risk-management and programme performance. Audits, inspections and evaluations covering UNCTAD are either programme-based (e.g. Audit of UNCTAD projects on strengthening institution and capacity building in the area of competition and consumer protection) or theme-based (e.g. Evaluation of gender mainstreaming in the UN Secretariat). OIOS reports are public and reviewed by various UN governing bodies, including subsidiary bodies of the General Assembly and Economic and Social Council (such as the Committee for Programme and Coordination) and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).

Consult OIOS Internal Audit and Evaluation reports for more.

The UN Joint Inspection Unit (JIU)
Coverage of the JIU extends beyond the UN Secretariat to UN Funds, Programs and Specialized agencies. The JIU is the only independent UN oversight body mandated to conduct evaluations, inspections and investigations across the UN system. It reports to the General Assembly and to the 28 legislative organs of the specialized agencies and other international organizations within the United Nations system that have accepted its Statute (which includes UNCTAD). It is comprised of 11 Inspectors appointed by the General Assembly for a maximum of 10 years. The Unit has a strong focus on management and administration issues, but also reviews other system-wide issues of importance to the UN. Reports of the JIU can cover single organizations, multiple organizations or the UN system as a whole. They are addressed to the respective governing bodies of the organizations or to the Executive Heads. JIU reports often provide comparisons and good practices across the UN system. 

JIU reports are available here.

The Board of Auditors (BoA)
The BoA is the external auditor of the United Nations, mandated to certify the financial accounts of the UN Secretariat and the Funds and Programmes, and report its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly. It is comprised of the heads of the Supreme Audit Institutions from three Member States, with a non-consecutive term of six years each. BoA recommendations are aimed at strengthening accountability for the use of public resources and improving the delivery of international public services. It reports its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly through the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions.

BoA reports are available here.

The UN Independent Audit Advisory Committee (IAAC)
The IAAC serves in an expert advisory rather than operational capacity and assists the General Assembly in fulfilling its oversight responsibilities. It comprises five members (with a mix of UN, audit, private sector and geographic backgrounds) appointed by the General Assembly, for up to six years, to advise the latter on the scope, results and effectiveness of audit and other oversight functions; and on measures to ensure the compliance of management with audit and other oversight recommendations.

IAAC reports are available here.

Status of UNCTAD's implementation of oversight body recommendations
UNCTAD has made important strides in the implementation of OIOS recommendations, with yearly implementation rates consistently over the minimum 80% required. In 2010, UNCTAD had 35 outstanding OIOS recommendations. By mid-2015, we had reduced this number to five. With new recommendations issued at the end of 2015, we now have 12 outstanding OIOS recommendations. UNCTAD aims to implements at least 9 (of the 12) recommendations by the end of 2016.

Download outstanding OIOS Recommendations to UNCTAD (PDF).

As of February 2015, UNCTAD had accepted 33% of JIU recommendations (issued between 2006 and 2012) and implemented 87% of them. The low acceptance rate is due to the fact that over 70% of JIU recommendations are not relevant since they cover, for example, vendor contract management, facilities management or security services which is covered by the United Nations Office in Geneva and not by UNCTAD. Many JIU recommendations also cover issues governed at the level of the whole United Nations Secretariat rather than at the UNCTAD level.