Role of the Office of Internal Oversight


1. Definitions

  1. Internal audit is an independent, objective assurance and consulting activity designed to add value and improve an organization’s operations. It helps an organization to accomplish its objectives by bringing a systematic, disciplined approach to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of risk management, control and governance processes.
  2. Investigation is a formal fact-finding administrative inquiry. The purpose of an investigation is to examine and determine the veracity of allegations of misconduct and to report thereon to the Director-General. Misconduct is a failure by a staff member to observe the rules of conduct or the standards of behavior prescribed by the WTO (i.e. regulations, rules, administrative memoranda, etc.).
    An investigation report shall not constitute an administrative decision.
  3. Inspection is a review conducted on an ad hoc basis whenever there is a strong indication that a wasteful use of resources or poor management of performance has occurred. The review provides a diagnosis of the issues concerned and proposes remedial measures.
  4. Evaluation is a systematic, objective and impartial assessment focused on whether expected accomplishments and results have been achieved. It aims at determining the relevance, impact, effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability of objectives, programmes and activities.

2. Independent Status of the Office of Internal Oversight

2.1 Operational independence

1. The OIO is an operationally independent office inside the WTO Secretariat. The Head of the OIO and other OIO staff will be functionally and operationally independent from the Secretariat and from WTO Members in the conduct of their duties.

2. The Head of the OIO and other OIO staff members are WTO staff members, subject to the WTO Staff Regulations and Rules as other WTO staff. In the exercise of their duties, they may neither seek nor accept any instruction from any person or entity outside the OIO, whether this person or entity is within or outside the WTO.

3. An OIO staff member reports exclusively to the Head of the OIO.

4. Neither the Director-General nor any other WTO staff member may seek to influence or otherwise interfere with the work of the OIO. The Head of the OIO and other OIO staff must, at all times, ensure that their conduct is compatible with the objectivity and independence required by their functions.

5. Notwithstanding the above, the OIO shall coordinate with and seek the views of the WTO External Auditor on the OIO yearly audit plan, and other aspects of the OIO functions as necessary. The Director-General may also request the opinion of the External Auditor on the quality, cost and benefits of the services provided by the OIO. On the basis of this opinion, the Director-General may initiate consultations with the Head of the OIO to agree on modifications or improvements in the services of the OIO.

2.2 Budget

6. The OIO has its own operational budget. This operational budget is determined by the Director-General, upon the entry into function of each new Head of the OIO, further to a recommendation of the latter. The Director-General then informs the Committee of Budget, finance and Administration (CBFA) of the amount of this budget. The operational budget of the OIO may not be diminished throughout the tenure of the Head of the OIO, unless otherwise agreed between the Head of the OIO, the Director-General and the Chairs of the General Council and of the CBFA.

2.3 Appointment, staffing and conditions of service

7. The Head of the OIO is selected through an external vacancy notice and appointed by the Director-General, after consultation with the Chairs of the General Council and of the CBFA. The Head of the OIO must have the training and expertise generally required by comparable international organizations with oversight offices.

8. The term of office of the Head of the OIO will be five (5) years and will not be renewable under any circumstances. Accordingly, the Head of the OIO will be offered a non-renewable five (5) year fixed-term contract, which will not be renewable under any circumstances. His/her employment contract may be terminated for misconduct only as a result of a disciplinary investigation pursuant to Section 2.4 below. Termination of his/her contract for any other reason is subject to the explicit agreement of the Chairs of the General Council and of the CBFA.

9. OIO staff members other than the Head of the OIO shall be recruited through an external vacancy notice. The Head of the OIO shall serve as the chair of the recruitment panel for such OIO staff members. OIO staff members other than the Head of the OIO will be offered a non-renewable five (5) year fixed-term contract, which will not be renewable under any circumstances. The employment contracts of OIO staff members may be terminated for misconduct only as a result of a disciplinary investigation pursuant to Section 2.4 below. Termination of contracts of OIO staff members for any other reason shall require the explicit agreement of the Head of the OIO.(1)

10. While a WTO staff member may apply for and be appointed as Head of the OIO or other OIO staff member, he/she must resign his/her regular appointment upon acceptance and must abide by the term of office provided for in paragraph 8 or 9, respectively.

11. The Head of the OIO and other OIO staff members shall during the duration of their contracts work only in the OIO.

12. A former Head of the OIO or other former OIO staff member may not be subsequently hired by the WTO in any capacity for a period of three (3) years following the expiry or termination (including resignation) of their fixed-term contract and only on the basis of a competitive selection process compliant with WTO policies on recruitment through external vacancy notices.

2.4 Disciplinary issues

13. No OIO staff member may be subject to investigation or disciplinary procedure of any kind on the part of the WTO except in accordance with this Section.

14. Should the need arise to investigate any allegation of misconduct on the part of an OIO staff member, including the Head of the OIO, the Director-General shall refer the matter to the WTO External Auditor. The External Auditor will either investigate the matter itself or, if the matter at issue so requires, appoint an outside investigator reporting to it. In carrying out an investigation, the External Auditor or the outside investigator, as the case may be, shall apply the WTO procedures for investigations and disciplinary matters mutatis mutandis.

15. The Director-General may apply disciplinary sanctions to the Head of the OIO or OIO staff member only on the basis of detailed written recommendations of the WTO External Auditor.  In such a case, the Director-General shall inform the Chairs of the General Council and of the CBFA for information that such sanctions have been applied. 

3. Scope of work of the Office of Internal Oversight

3.1 Overview of functions and objectives

16. The OIO assists the Director-General in fulfilling his/her internal oversight responsibilities in respect of management, staff and resources of the WTO by conducting investigations, audit, and other forms of assessment and reporting to the Director-General.

The OIO has the authority, ex officio or upon request, to initiate, carry out and prepare reports on investigations, audits, inspections and other evaluations, as it deems necessary to fulfil its responsibilities with regard to its oversight functions, consistently with the highest standards in oversight and with best practices in the field of oversight in international organizations.

17. Through its work the OIO aims:

  1. to promote financial efficiency and transparency through sound practices and procedures;
  2. to identify potential savings and recoveries;
  3. to identify and deter the occurrence of fraud, waste, abuse and misconduct;
  4. to reinforce a culture of accountability and strengthen the ethical climate within the WTO Secretariat;
  5. to ensure risk mitigation through a systematic analysis of the major risks confronting WTO assets and resources.

3.2 Internal investigations

18. The OIO is the exclusive entity responsible for investigating allegations of violations of any WTO norm applicable to Staff members, irrespective of the nature of their contracts, and for transmitting to the Director-General(2) the results of such investigations together with recommendations on action to be taken.

19. Any such investigations must take place only on the basis of published investigation procedures, which should follow the Uniform Guidelines for Investigations. Proposed procedures for investigations and administrative action shall be developed by the OIO and submitted to the Joint Advisory Committee, which shall make a recommendation to the Director-General.  

20. The OIO shall not be involved in any way in the adoption of disciplinary measures taken further to an investigation conducted by the OIO.

3.3 Internal audit

21. The OIO, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Financial Regulations and Rules of the WTO and any other relevant norm, reviews the effectiveness of the use of financial resources of the WTO to implement activities within the Organization's mandates, ascertains compliance with the above norms as well as with the approved recommendations of external auditors, and undertakes management audits, reviews and surveys to recommend improvements to the structure of the Organization and its responsiveness to the requirements of its mandates. It also monitors the effectiveness of the internal control systems of the Organization.

3.4 Other evaluations and inspections

22. The OIO evaluates the efficiency and effectiveness of the implementation of the mandates of the Organization, be it by the WTO itself or by public or private entities mandated for this purpose. It conducts evaluations of activities with the purpose of establishing analytical and critical assessments of the implementation of the Organization's mandates. It examines whether changes are required, the continued relevance of administrative procedures, and whether the activities correspond to the WTO mandates as reflected in the approved budgets and the strategic and work plans of the Organization.

3.5 Support and advice to management

23. The OIO may, upon request, advise managers on the effective discharge of their responsibilities, provide assistance to managers in implementing recommendations, and ascertain whether programme managers are given methodological support. The OIO may also encourage self-evaluation.

4. Professional standards

24. OIO staff members govern themselves by adherence to all relevant standards and best practices which are accepted and applied by other international organizations comparable to the WTO and abide by other relevant professional standards.

5. working procedures of the OIO

25. Upon his/her appointment, the Head of the OIO will draft working procedures which will govern the organization and operations of the OIO within its mandate and authority. In drafting those procedures, the Head of the OIO will ensure that they comply with best practices in the field of oversight in international organizations.

26. These working procedures will be communicated to the Director-General and to the CBFA and published in the WTO's Online Administrative Manual before their entry into force.

6. Reporting, follow-up and implementation

27. Following the completion of each audit, evaluation, inspection or investigation, the OIO shall submit a report to the Director-General, and to other staff members as appropriate. If the Director-General, a deputy Director-General or a member of the Office of the Director-General is the subject of the report, the OIO shall also submit its report to the Chairs of the General Council and of the CBFA.

28. Upon receiving a report from the OIO, the Director-General will decide upon the implementation of the recommendations contained in that report. The OIO shall provide a yearly summary report to the Director-General on the implementation of recommendations made by the OIO over that year. When a recommendation could not be implemented or could be implemented only in part, reasons shall be provided by the services concerned.

29. The OIO shall report annually to the CBFA, providing an overview of its activities during the year. In respect to internal investigations, the OIO's reporting shall be limited to a summary of the number of internal investigations conducted. The OIO may in that report indicate any circumstances that it considers may have affected its independence or otherwise impeded its ability to fulfil its functions.

7. Authority vested in the OIO for the performance of its functions

30. In the performance of its functions and responsibilities, and in compliance with the applicable international standards, the OIO is authorised to:

  1. have full and unrestricted access to all WTO records (irrespective of their status and location), premises and property, as well as to all personnel (including the Director-General and members of his/her office), and require all necessary assistance from them;
  2. have access to all third parties performing services delegated to them by the WTO, in accordance with contractual terms;
  3. require any staff member of the Organization to supply such information and explanations as may be needed;
  4. be available to all staff who wish, in good faith, to report on fraud or other forms of misconduct. The OIO shall in all cases respect a staff member's wish for confidentiality and take appropriate action to protect that staff member.

31. To ensure its impartiality and credibility, the OIO may not perform any operational duty or be involved in any activity which may be subject to any form of evaluation or audit, or which has been evaluated or audited by the OIO.

8. Staff responsibilities

32. The creation of an OIO does not in any way relieve staff members of the responsibilities assigned to them. Responsibility for accountability, complying with WTO norms applicable to all staff, regardless of contract status, rests with the respective staff members, supervisors and management.

33. The Director-General shall:

  1. promptly inform the OIO of suspected cases of fraud or other misconduct involving WTO funds, records, property and staff; and
  2. protect any staff member from retaliation or threat thereof for cooperation with the OIO.


  1. The provisions of this section do not apply to Administrative support staff, who may be appointed from among existing WTO staff members. back to text
  2. Or in the case of an alleged violation by the Director-General, a Deputy Director-General, or a member of the Office of the Director-General, the Chairs of the General Council and of the CBFA. back to text

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