Gov’t, Donors at Odds Over Election Issues

The government refused to place election reforms on the list of Consultative Group reform benchmarks during last week’s international donor meeting despite strong urgings from bilateral donor countries, officials said.

The government also pulled the 2003 national elections from the agenda at the last minute without consulting the donors, said one embassy official who requested anonymity. The accusation fueled speculation that the government tried to silence any discussion about the elections during the CG meeting.

This could not be confirmed by the government or the donor community.

“The donors pushed to have election reform included in the list of benchmarks, but the government disagreed—in the end it was a deadlock,” said Bona­venture Mbida-Essama, country representative for the World Bank.

The World Bank chaired last week’s CG meeting in which donors pledged $635 million in loans and grant aid over the next year. “I’m sure the elections will continue to be a major concern for the donor countries,” he said.

Mbida-Essama declined to comment on the accusation that the government eliminated the national elections from the meeting’s agenda, asking, “Have you seen the agenda?” The CG agenda did not list the national elections.

The benchmarks represent a timetable for the government’s commitments in such areas as judicial, forestry and civil service reform. The list of benchmarks are considered to be the most substantial product of the CG meeting.

Government officials, however, are disputing the claim.

“The upcoming elections are an ongoing benchmark,” said Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh on Monday. “We will need at least $15 million for the national elections, so this is definitely a benchmark.”

Cham Prasidh said that election reform will be an ongoing issue through negotiations with the UN Development Program.

He could not comment on whether or not the government pulled it off the agenda for the CG meeting.

The US was one of the countries that pressed the government to bring up the elections during the CG meeting and as a benchmark, according to one US official who requested anonymity.

Although the official could not elaborate on the extent of the US’ role in the national elections, a statement by the US delegation released at the CG meeting stated, “Support for free and fair national elections will be a priority for US assistance in the coming year.”

Most donor countries remained quiet regarding the election issue on Sunday and Monday. Am­bassadors from Britain, Germany and Canada were contacted, but declined to comment in detail regarding the role of elections in the CG meeting.

“The elections are a very important issue for the government and for the furthering of democracy in the country, but the CG meeting is a forum where donors discuss economic and social reforms, not political issues,” said Urooj Malik, resident representative for the Asian Development Bank, Sunday.

The reform benchmarks the government committed to during the CG meeting include legal and judicial reform governance, natural resource management, social sector reforms such as HIV/AIDS legislation and public administration reforms, such as strengthening tax auditing.

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