The European Union (EU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have crossed paths, with the latter warning the former that it is indulging in conflict of interest in the run-up to the 2014 tripartite elections.
In a letter dated June 21 2012 to European Union (EU) head of delegation Alexander Baum, UNDP resident representative Richard Dictus accuses the EU of compromising its observer role in the Malawi electoral process.
He noted in the letter that during a mission UNDP made to the Electoral Commission (EC) on June 15 2012, EC informed them of the activities around the strategic plan formulation process.
â€œUNDP has noted that the European Union would like to take the lead role in this process. Suffice to mention that during the Heads of Missions meeting that was held on June 20 2012, it was reiterated that the EUâ€™s lead role in the formulation of the strategic plan creates a conflict of interest with their role in the observation of the electoral processes of the 2014 tripartite elections,â€ said Dictus.
He said it is wrong for the EU to fund and at the same time take a lead role in the formulation of the EC strategic plan in readiness for the May 2014 elections.
â€œEUâ€™s observation is essential to the credibility of any elections and their lead role or direct involvement in the formulation of the strategic plan would later compromise the credibility and independence of their observation,â€ reads part of the letter copied to EC chairperson and members of Development Partner Election Task Force.
Dictus did not reply to an email enquiry to further explain his position.
But he has since proposed a tripartite meeting involving EU, UNDP and EC to be held either on July 10 or 11 2012 at EC offices in Blantyre to discuss the matter.
â€˜Nothing new with EUâ€™s supportâ€™
But in an e-mail interview, Baum said there is nothing new with EUâ€™s support in the formulation of EC strategic plan ahead of 2014 elections.
He said: â€œAlso before 2009, the EU provided support to EC and dispatched an Election Observation Mission and no objections were raised by any interested party at that time.â€
According to Baum, there is no â€œnormal duty as observersâ€ and there is no guarantee that the EU would be able to send an election observation mission in 2014 should the government request so.
â€œThere seems to be a major misunderstanding on the way the EU cooperates with Malawi. It is not the EU that has decided suddenly to support the strategic planning process in EC, but EC itself in its longer-term preparation of support from the EU,â€ said Baum.
In a separate interview, chief elections officer Willy Kalonga confirmed that the EU is part of the strategic plan process, but downplayed the conflict of interest UNDP insinuates would result from EUâ€™s role in the formulation of EC strategic plan.
The Financing Agreement between the Government of Malawi and the European Union, which was prepared in 2009/10 and signed in May 20011, also stipulates that the EU shall support EC.
He explained that in addition to contributing to the UNDP-managed basket fund, the EU also provides direct support to EC.â€
â€œUNDP is aware of all programmes that the EU will support EC directly. MEC is aware that UNDP also wanted to support the strategic planning process, but EC and the EU had already done much of the preparatory work for the exercise,â€ said Kalonga.
At a recent meeting which also involved UNDP, it was agreed that UNDP will fund some of the consultative meetings EC will have with stakeholders over the strategic plan, according to Kalonga.
Commenting on the matter, Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) publicist Steve Duwa said any delays in supporting the EC strategic plan would compromise the outcome.
â€œMesn would like to see co-ordinated, timely and adequate support to EC by development partners for it to effectively carry out its activities. Any delay in supporting EC strategic planning process will negatively affect preparations for 2014 tripartite elections,â€ he said in an e-mail interview.
The UNDP has managed Malawiâ€™s elections basket fund (pool of donor support) for some time now.
Under the arrangement, all donors who wish to support the electoral process pool together funds which are left under UNDP management for disbursement to EC and other stakeholders such as NGOs taking part in civic education.