The Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact - June 2012

Written evidence submitted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

On the ICAI review of DFID’s Electoral Support delivered through UNDP

Executive Summary

1. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) welcomes the ICAI review. The report highlights areas where UNDP needs to do better, including learning; attention to cost effectiveness and the use of appropriate technologies; and implementing the electoral cycle approach. DFID’s management response also presents opportunities for UNDP and DFID to collaborate in improving the design and delivery of electoral assistance, including through development of a new methodology for assessing value for money in electoral assistance and preparations for the next UNDP Strategic Plan (2014-2017).

2. UNDP is the one of the world’s largest providers of electoral assistance. Between 1999 and 2011, UNDP assisted 83 countries with expenditures of approximately $2.2 billion. Assistance today averages 60 countries annually. UNDP brings together technical expertise, UN norms and principles, trusted relationships with partner governments, and coordination and funds management.

3. UNDP, as the leading technical electoral assistance provider and the Department of Political Affairs of the UN (DPA), through its Electoral Assistance Division (EAD), as the clearing house for UNDP’s assistance, have arrived at significant agreements on the UN’s common approach, which is solidly founded on the "electoral cycle" notion.

4. Today 65% of UNDP electoral assistance is delivered through the electoral cycle approach, which entails engaging multiple stakeholders while working through the pre-electoral, electoral and post-electoral periods. The electoral cycle approach includes support to election events, but grounds such support within a wider context of democratic institution building. UNDP seeks to implement the electoral cycle in order to build sustainable capacity. But this is difficult when the electoral management body is constituted late, or its staff frequently replaced (Malawi and Burundi), or when donor funding fails to materialize until impending elections (Afghanistan).

5. The independent evaluation of UNDP electoral assistance (to be submitted to the UNDP Executive Board in September 2012) concluded that "UNDP is uniquely placed to address the real, usually long-term, challenges faced in a democratization process, to which credible electoral processes are indispensable. Its development perspective, larger democratic governance portfolio of programmes, long-term relationship with host governments and United Nations-system status are its strongest assets. These provide UNDP with the standing, expertise and moral authority to advise countries on these sensitive and highly political national processes."

6. The four country case studies examined in the ICAI review (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burundi and Malawi) present relevant lessons. It is also important to note however that the range of experience in collaboration between DFID and UNDP extends far beyond and includes additional lessons. DFID is one of UNDP’s most important electoral partners. The two organizations are working in contexts as diverse as DRC, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Yemen and Zambia.

7. There are many instances where UNDP has argued in favour of lower costs and lower technology solutions (Sierra Leone) and documented cases where UNDP has sought to advise national electoral management bodies about the pitfalls of using certain technology (Sierra Leone, Zambia, Yemen). UNDP has also moved toward promoting south-south cooperation, adopting the role of knowledge broker (India, Nigeria, Uganda). More broadly, electoral project budgets and staff in many countries are trending downwards. In Nepal the number of international advisors was reduced from 80 to 1 in the transition from a UN political mission to a non-mission development context, and in Bangladesh the programming budget for electoral assistance was reduced by a factor of five.

8. Joint strategic oversight over programmes is maintained in many ways, including through participation by donors in strategic-level steering committees that set the policy framework and high-level results and strategies. Donors also participate in technical committees that look into practical specifics of the technical assistance and management of funds.


9. UNDP is submitting this written evidence to the International Development Committee of the House of Commons at the invitation of the Committee, extended to the UNDP Administrator during her visit to Parliament on 25 April 2012.

10. Electoral assistance represents a range of between five and 27 percent of all UNDP democratic governance assistance and between two and 10 percent of total UNDP support. The higher end of such ranges reflects UNDP assistance during years of large post-conflict elections, such as those in Afghanistan and DRC. Approximately 95 percent of electoral assistance funding comes from non-core sources (earmarked funds) mobilized at country level from bilateral and multilateral donors. The European Union is the largest contributor to UNDP’s electoral assistance, contributing in 2011 approximately €67.7 million. In 2011, UNDP provided support to 58 countries (28 in Africa, 10 in Latin America and the Caribbean, nine in Asia and Pacific, six in the Arab States, and five in Europe and the CIS).

Factual Information

Policy Framework

In reference to ICAI recommendation 2 that DFID "should encourage the UN to resolve differences in approach to elections between UN agencies".

11. UNDP provides electoral assistance within a larger United Nations context. A United Nations Focal Point for Electoral Assistance Activities was appointed in 1991, by General Assembly resolution 46/137, to provide a consistent response to Member States’ requests for electoral assistance and to channel such requests to the appropriate responder within the UN system. The Focal Point, currently the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, assisted by EAD, makes formative decisions about whether and how the United Nations provides assistance. UNDP assistance begins with a country government request or mandate from the United Nations Security Council or General Assembly. The nature of the request and the DPA-led needs assessment mission define the parameters for UNDP action, and, in some cases, may limit UNDP’s ability to address some key components of the electoral support process. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations and EAD typically take the lead in electoral assistance in peacekeeping and political mission contexts, though UNDP usually plays a supporting role.

12. The DPA-led needs assessment is the initial vehicle to set the political and strategic framework within which UN assistance takes place. The practice is to consult key interlocutors, including the UK in its capacity as a development partner. A key goal is to agree on overall objectives. Most interlocutors identify a mix of short- and long-term objectives – some are more "political", some are more "technical". The process is designed to facilitate agreed strategic objectives for the UN’s assistance, placed within the larger political and development agendas. It is often but not always possible to facilitate agreement amongst key stakeholders. This can be because the UN has a multilateral mandate which give it a status different from an "implementer".

13. The entire UN system not only supports, but is obligated to follow the electoral cycle approach as defined by the General Assembly as " assistance...throughout the timespan of the entire electoral cycle, including before and after elections, as appropriate, based on a needs assessment and evolving needs of requesting Member States, bearing in mind sustainability and cost effectiveness" (A/RES/66/163). The UN has also embraced the holistic approach to electoral assistance laid out by the Secretary-General in his report to the 66th General Assembly (A/66/314).

14. The Secretary-General’s Policy Committee decisions 2010/23 and 2011/23 have clarified pending issues of division of labor among different parts of the UN working in electoral assistance, from how policy is formulated to how the UN should respond to demands for electoral assistance from Member States. UNDP and DPA have also signed a Note of Guidance on Electoral Assistance (September 2010) which governs the division of labor in this area. DPA and UNDP have also collaborated on a new policy directive on Principles and Types of Electoral Assistance and on Needs Assessment Guidelines which define the types of UN electoral assistance that are typically provided and the principles governing such assistance, and outline how the UN assesses whether to provide electoral assistance, respectively.

Multiple Roles of UNDP

In reference to ICAI recommendation 5 "DFID should ensure that each example of electoral support is anchored in a strategy for democratic development. This should include how the elections assistance relates to governance objectives beyond the time frame of a specific election".

15. UNDP combines a normative and principled-based framework, electoral technical expertise, coordination at country level, and funds management. The independent evaluation of UNDP electoral assistance concluded that UNDP is "uniquely placed" to address democratization challenges, and that its assets "confer upon UNDP the legitimacy to represent the international community in its collective efforts to support these processes and help ensure that they meet international standards."

Planning and Design

16. In many cases planning and design processes begin several years in advance of an election and even before the official request or UN assessment process. In Burundi and Malawi, UNDP prioritized the electoral cycle approach (and capacity development) but was hampered in following through due to the constraints of late electoral administration appointments and the impact on what could be done. In Burundi UNDP went further in introducing the notion of a "Democratic Cycle" in order to emphasize the complementarity with strengthening other democratic institutions. While initially the DFID funding was to be used exclusively for the holding of the 2010 elections, UNDP ensured that post-election activities were planned and included in the project document and advocated for further support.

17. In Afghanistan, UNDP prioritized the electoral cycle approach with the design of the Enhancing Legal and Electoral Capacity for Tomorrow (ELECT) Programme in late 2005. However, no donor was willing to fund this programme until 2008. The challenges of implementing the electoral cycle approach in contexts of impermanent or frequently changed electoral management bodies or where donor funding is unpredictable or untimely (such as in Malawi and Burundi) need to be distinguished from any possible internal UN differences in position on the approach. In addition, we see cases where UNDP tried to interest donors in other entry points through the electoral cycle, such as in Burundi where the original electoral project design included political party work, thereby opening the scope. But this attempt did not succeed because of funding constraints and other donor priorities. Any technical assistance provider in such cases will face difficulties in implementing the electoral cycle approach.

Value for money in electoral assistance

In reference to ICAI recommendation 3 "DFID should place greater emphasis on ensuring value for money in electoral assistance. This means encouraging more realistic budget processes and advocating appropriate electoral systems and technologies. DFID also needs to improve its identification of costs of different aspects of electoral systems in different countries, to enable better cost control".

18. While there are many challenges with implementing the electoral cycle approach, UNDP has seen that full implementation of the approach reduces electoral project budgets – including the spending on election day support – and staff providing in-country assistance. At UNDP’s last global electoral practice meeting (March 2011, Botswana), several country examples illustrated a strong focus on national capacity development, clear exit strategies and a reduction in resources and personnel used. This has for instance been the case in Nepal and Bangladesh where both staffing and budgets have been reduced significantly over the last cycle. [1] Some Member States, such as Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, have transformed from ‘net importers’ of UN electoral assistance to providers of expertise and south-south support. In such cases the role of UNDP has evolved from that of a technical assistance provider to a broker of knowledge, standards, partnerships and information. In other cases, such as in the Pro-PALOP (for lusaphone African countries and Timor Leste) and SADC-ECF regional projects, UNDP brokers south-south exchanges among electoral management bodies.

19. Consultations on project design are generally wide and collaborative. In Malawi (2009), the project was prepared through close collaboration between the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), UNDP, Development Partners and the Malawi Government. The Trust Fund arrangement for the first time integrated bilateral work done by DFID on the voter registry, civic and voter education activities of various donors, and core support to the MEC. The formulation process was done under considerable pressure due to the late appointment of the Election Commissioners, which may have created the impression that consultations (e.g. with civil society organizations) were not as extensive as they could have been.

20. UNDP’s sustained long-term relationship with the host government often results in strong national ownership over the processes supported. This enables UNDP to rapidly bring together national and international partners to provide a substantive technical response. For instance, in Bangladesh the obstacles to holding credible elections were both technical and political. However, with the new interim government and election commission in place, UNDP’s standing as an organization responsive to the needs and preferences of its national counterparts provided a window of opportunity. The Resident Coordinator, cognizant of the political obstacles and realities, quickly seized the opportunity to bring together all relevant stakeholders, fostering coordination and cooperation, to provide the comprehensive support required. This included the enormous task of registering 81 million voters.

Cost and ICT

21. There are many instances where UNDP has argued in favour of lower costs and simpler technology solutions. For example, in Sierra Leone UNDP shared comparative experiences in use of technology, argued for lower-cost solutions, and endeavoured to budget realistically for electoral assistance. In the case of Afghanistan, costs have been going down with every election (the difference between the 2009 and 2010 elections was over US$ 50 million). At other times, the late arrival of funds resulted in truncated supplier timelines which drove up costs.

22. There are also a number of instances where DFID and UNDP undertook an analysis of the cost-effectiveness of election budgets or made use of cross-country comparators to assess value for money. Both were done in Sierra Leone. UNDP invested considerable time in trying to develop a more realistic budget for the National Election Commission (NEC). UNDP also shared with the NEC experience and lessons learned from other African countries on biometric registration, including through a comparative paper produced by UNDP which gave a clear sense to the NEC and partners of the processes and challenges of adopting technology as experienced elsewhere. At a corporate level, UNDP has invested in this capacity, hiring in 2009 a global expert to advise country offices and programme countries (largely in Africa) on electoral budgeting, procurement and use of appropriate technology to pre-empt these issues.

23. Accurate electoral budgeting is a challenge everywhere but there are documented cases where UNDP sought to advise national electoral management bodies about the perils and pitfalls of using technology when the innovation has not been adequately studied, designed and planned with sustainability in mind. These include the cases of Sierra Leone, Zambia and Yemen where UNDP worked hard to advise on realistic budgets and/or comparative use of technology. We also see that in many contexts, budgets for electoral processes and their corresponding electoral assistance projects are going down not up (see previously cited cases of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal). In addition, despite concerns about cost-effectiveness and sustainable solutions being important considerations in electoral assistance programming, there are limitations in how well these costs can be managed when, for example, a country makes a sovereign decision to adopt expensive systems and technologies, a national legal framework calls for certain technology to be used or funding arrives late and drives up procurement costs.

24. In the area of electoral technologies also, UNDP has moved toward promoting south-south cooperation, adopting the role of knowledge broker for Member States to share experiences. This has, for instance, been the case with India exchanging experiences on its electronic voting technology with Nigeria and Uganda.

25. Where an element of a UNDP-administered programme is implemented by another UN agency, UNDP only levies 1% of administrative charges. This is based on UNDP’s accountability framework when acting as an Administrative Agent.

26. UNDP will continue to work closely with DFID in the follow up of the recommendations of the Multilateral Aid Review and in select actions outlined in DFID’s management response, including the development of a methodology for assessing value for money in electoral assistance.

Strategic Oversight

In reference to ICAI recommendation 4 "DFID should strengthen governance arrangements over UNDP-managed programmes".

27. Joint strategic oversight is maintained in many ways, including through participation by donors in strategic-level steering committees that set the policy framework and high-level results and strategies for electoral assistance, as well as participation in technical committees that delve more into practical specifics of the technical assistance and management of the funds to do so. Combining political and strategic level engagement on electoral assistance with technical delivery ensures that the technical assistance is fully informed by political considerations and long-term democratic goals, rather than divorced from them. In cases where electoral assistance is provided in furtherance of a Security Council mandate, objectives are framed by the Council which maintains strategic oversight.


28. In its decision 2011/23 (, the Executive Board requested UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS to present an information note containing "a proposal for the remote viewing of internal audit reports." The Joint Note was presented at the Joint Segment of the Executive Board outlining the information technology solutions that are proposed by UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS to facilitate the remote viewing of internal audit reports.


UNDP has recently undertaken several lessons learnt studies on various aspects of its electoral support (forthcoming) and an independent evaluation by the Evaluation Office examined the role of UNDP in strengthening electoral systems and processes from 1990-2011.

Other knowledge products ( provide deeper insight into UNDP’s support and contributions to electoral processes in various countries. It is therefore recommended that the Committee review such documentation as supporting evidence to the ICAI review.  

June 2012

[1] The combined budgets for electoral assistance to Bangladesh went from USD 96 million over the period 2005 to 2010 to USD 20 million for the period 2011 to 2016 (these figures exclude one 47-million project that rolls over both periods).

Prepared 9th July 2012