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FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

Interview: Stefano Bonezzi explains FAO’s efforts to fight fraud, minimize risk

To carry out its programme of work across five geographically distinct regions worldwide, FAO needs a highly decentralized structure.

The Europe and Central Asia region is characterized by a limited number of fully fledged country offices (excluding those hosted in regional and subregional offices), generally with rather limited operational capacities. The role of the Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia is therefore quite peculiar compared with the other regional offices, as several functions – administrative, operational and programmatic – are discharged from or supported in Budapest.

Stefano Bonezzi, head of the administration unit in FAO’s Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia in Budapest, spoke recently with Nicholas Waltham, information and communication officer, to explain how this works in the region.

Where does the Regional Office fit into FAO’s decentralized structure?

The Budapest office is one of the five FAO regional offices located throughout the world. This region also has a subregional office, covering Turkey and Central Asia, located in Ankara, and there are a number of country offices, too. With the introduction of FAO’s strategic programme approach worldwide, the regional offices now play primary roles in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of FAO’s work. Under the leadership of FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative Vladimir Rakhmanin, the teams in Budapest, Ankara and the country offices work together (and in collaboration with the units at FAO headquarters in Rome) towards achieving the objectives defined in the regional work plan and in the various Country Programming Framework documents.

The administrative unit in Budapest supports the work of the region in budgeting, finance, procurement, human resources, information technology, travel and general services.

In recent years, the regional offices have taken on more and more responsibilities. Some of the functions that used to be done at headquarters have moved to regional offices; for example, the management of the FAO Representations network programme, which governs the country offices, is now being done in the regions. Regional offices also have an active role in new initiatives related to fraud and internal control reporting.

What are the challenges of this kind of decentralized structure?

The main challenge for the decentralized structure of our Organization is efficiency and the ability to contribute to enhancing the impact of FAO’s action in the countries. The structure of the decentralization at all levels (region, subregion and national) is currently under review, with the objective of defining region- and country-specific configurations that will increase the operational efficiency and strategic effectiveness of FAO’s programme delivery.

Here in the Europe and Central Asia region, we have country offices in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Republic of Moldova, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkey that is, at the same time, the seat of Subregional Office for Central Asia and Uzbekistan. Additionally, there are partnership and liaison offices in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan and project offices in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo*, Serbia and Ukraine; and small projects in Belarus and Montenegro.. Some of these offices are fully fledged and have good overall capacity, while others very much rely on the Regional Office’s support. Projects in countries where we do not have an office are operated from Budapest, too.

Tell me a little more about FAO’s internal control reporting and risk management. What role does the Regional Office has in these?

The internal control reporting exercise was launched in 2017. The reporting assures Members, resource partners and other stakeholders that the controls governing FAO programmes are effective, and it also provides an opportunity to identify and discuss areas for improvement. In particular, the aim of the controls is to ensure effective and efficient operations; to safeguard resources against fraud, damage, harm, theft and loss; to ensure compliance with rules, regulations and internal policies; and to promote timely and reliable reporting.

The controls cover four main areas of risk: design of programmes and projects, resource mobilization and partnership, management and monitoring of programme implementation, and efficiency and control in administration.

The role of the Regional Office is to report on the status of internal control in the region. Questionnaires are discussed with country offices, however the final validation lies with the regional office.

The limited number of country offices facilitate regular contact and frequent interactions between the Regional Office and the field, in programmatic and operational and administrative areas. Due to limited numbers of staff, even fully fledged country offices rely on the support and advice of the Regional Office. Countries without FAO offices but where the Organization has field projects and programmes are again serviced directly by the Regional Office.
This allows us to build a good understanding of the situation in each of these countries, particularly regarding internal settings and processes.

Does the Regional Office also have a role in fraud prevention?

As part of the ongoing strengthening of internal control, our Organization is issuing its first corporate Anti-fraud Strategy and Action Plan, which will cover 2018 to 2021.

Our goals include improving awareness throughout the Organization about FAO’s measures to prevent, detect and report on suspected cases of fraud. We also want to strengthen the effectiveness of controls to mitigate fraud risks and to ensure the availability of tools for managerial oversight, early detection and deterrence.

The Regional Office will help write the fraud prevention plan for each country office and will assist in setting up their mechanisms for monitoring compliance. We’ll help monitor the effectiveness of the measures put in place, and we’ll providing ongoing support and guidance. Throughout the year, we’ll also gather information on newly identified risks.

Do we still have room for improvement?

I already can see improvements, and I see efforts by the Organization to be more transparent and to review its decentralized structure so that it can better respond to new challenges and better serve its Member Countries. Gaining in efficiency also mean gaining in competitiveness. We are doing what other organizations are doing – including those in the private sector – by aligning ourselves with the general practices of good management. When we improve in this sense, we will improve our mitigation of risk and achieve our goals.

*References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).

19 December 2018, Budapest, Hungary

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