by David Bergman
The European Union, UK’s Department for International Development, USAID and UNDP have since 2011 financed a UNDP-managed project supporting the Election Commission in Bangladesh.
EU, by far the biggest funder, has provided $8.8 million
UK’s DfID has provided $2.4 million
UNDP has provided $2 million
USAID has provided $1.4 million
This is a total of $14.6 million, of which $11.4 million has been spent. A similar project took place involving the previous 5 year period
Since 2011, there has been three sets of key elections: the national elections in January 2014, the upazilla elections in March of that year (that were held in four rounds), and most recently the City Corporation elections in April 2015.
In September 2014, DfID undertook an annual assessment of the money spent on this project (written before the recent City Corporation elections) and it is damning. The much morediplomatic UNDP mid-term review is also critical in parts.
It should be noted that the European Union declined to provide copies to New Age of its evaluation/monitoring reports. USAID said that it did not commission any reports of this kind.
Here is an article which was published in New Age on 22 May 2015 on this DfID annual assessment. The DfID assessment quotes from a review written by an DfID commissioned election expert, however it has so far declined to provide a copy of this document without providing any reasons.
UK govt report slams EC for ‘high levels of fraud’ during polls
An election expert commissioned by the United Kingdom government to review Bangladesh’s national and upazila elections that took place in January and March 2014 strongly criticised the ‘high levels of fraud’ in the polls and the lack of ‘transparency’ and ‘independence’ within the election commission.
The review has not been made public, but an excerpt of the expert’s opinion is set out in an annual assessment of the multi-million dollar donor-funded and UNDP managed project in support of the election commission.
The annual assessment was written in September 2014 by the UK’s Department for International Development, and was only recently placed on the department’s website.
In a damning critique of the election commission the DfID report quotes the expert review as saying, ‘recent electoral processes in Bangladesh have become increasingly problematic with indications of very high levels of fraud and violence. ‘
It goes onto state that Bangladesh’s election commission ‘has not sufficiently addressed problems arising, has not provided for transparency, and has essentially deferred responsibility to returning officers from the executive, thus rendering the institution more akin to a logistical support service. ‘
‘Systemic problems with a lack of institutional independence and insufficient legal safeguards mean that problems are likely to continue unless addressed politically and then legally,’ it adds. ‘The impact of technical support to the institution has been severely limited due to decisions of the ECB leadership.”
The review was undertaken before the recent Dhaka and Chittagong city corporation elections held at the end of April 2015 which have been even more heavily criticised by observers.
The independent Election Working Group, which comprises 28 non-governmental organisations, concluded that the day of these city corporation elections ‘was marred by a significant level of electoral fraud and violence’ and that ‘numerous incidents of ballot stuffing, intimidation, [and] booth capture’ were reported.
The election commission has said that it is satisfied with the fairness of the city corporation polls and has not taken any further action or investigation following the EWG’s report, or indeed the numerous reports or irregularities and fraud observed by print and electrical media.
DFID’s annual assessment of the UNDP project is itself also highly critical of the upazila elections held in March 2014. The report states that whilst the first two phases in which the BNP won were trouble free, observers of phases three and four ‘reported widespread and escalating violence and suspected fraud – much of it blatant. The Acting Chief Election Commissioner refused to acknowledge any challenges or concerns.’
The UNDP’s Strengthening Election Management in Bangladesh project, started in 2011 and is supposed to last five years, though donors have provided hints that the project may be stopped early.
According to the UNDP website, the main objective of the project ‘is to build the capacity of the ECB, its secretariat and local offices, to fulfill their mandate of conducting fair, credible and transparent elections and to become a permanent, professional, credible and independent institution of governance.’ The project is supposed to be implemented jointly with the Election Commission of Bangladesh.
Since 2011, the UK government has given $2.3 million in support of the UNDP project, the US government $1.4 million, the European Union $8.8 million and the UNDP has contributed $2 million. So far $11 million has been spent by the donors.
The UNDP’s mid-term evaluation of its own project states that ‘the Election Commission has experienced a loss of confidence in their ability to ensure credible and transparent elections’ and ‘many also perceive the election commission to be partisan and [commissioners] do not enjoy the high regard for transparency and integrity as they did in 2008.’
The DfID review concludes that work with the Election Commission (ECB) should be reduced and ‘focus only on ensuring sustainability of key technical achievements, and on promoting electoral reform where there is genuine possibility of success.’
In relation to whether the UNDP project has been effective at all, the annual assessment stated that ‘the failure to agree on conditions for 2014 elections, the decision of opposition parties not to field candidates, and the resulting low-participation, as well as ECB’s failure to respond to fraud and violence during upazila elections, have shown that political context rather than technical capacity is the major limiting factor for credible elections in Bangladesh. That being said, while the elections cannot be declared a success, [the project] did play a role in ensuring that the technical pre-conditions for credible elections were met.’
USAID told New Age that ‘it supports the findings of the DfID assessment’ of the UNDP election commission project and ‘have been consulting with the EU and DFID on next steps.’