Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Audit: Iraq elections contractor falls short, wins renewal

by April 26th, 2012

An audit by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the federal government’s USAID agency says that what turned into a seven-year, $102 million contractor-driven effort to bring fair and open elections to Iraq has failed to become sustainable by Iraqi officials without outside help. Yet despite that concern the USAID contractor, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), whose board of directors is composed of high-octane Washington, D.C. insiders and business and non-profit luminaries, got a $36 million extension for follow-up work for another three years from October 2011 to October 2014.

The recently released USAID OIG audit said IFES’s job was to work with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) to help the Iraqi High Electoral Commission (IHEC) conduct elections; and build “capacity for a sustainable electoral system that would require minimal international assistance.”

Some initial successes noted
On the first count, IFES and its U.N. cohort UNAMI had some degree of success, USAID auditors reported. They worked with Iraqis to create databases for voter registration, voter complaints, candidate and party information, polling facilities and election results. They also aided in conducting six elections, two for parliament, two in Iraqi provinces (which are known as governates), plus one for president of the Kurdish region, and a constitutional referendum.

The USAID contractor IFES, with the U.N.’s UNAMI team, also helped get software programming and database creation training for Iraqi (IHEC) information technology staff. They assisted in opening electoral offices in all Iraq’s governates, and doing some staff training in those locales.

Iraqi elections system not seen as sustainable yet
But lack of a written plan and reported results from IFES about what it intended to accomplish made it difficult to determine what it did versus what gains resulted from the work of UNAMI, according to the USAID audit. Most crucially, the audit adds, although the Iraqi national elections commission did get important technical help from USAID’s contractor and the U.N. to train workers and run elections, “all parties involved acknowledged that IHEC is not sustainable at this point and needs more assistance before it can stand on its own operationally, administratively, and financially.”

Issues around voter database integrity, software, hardware, staffing
Despite initial creation of databases, auditors reported IHEC’s overall voter registration system isn’t reliable, nor does IHEC have permanent workers, modern computers, training and outreach plans, or “financial transparency and political independence” – all “perquisites for sustainability,” auditors said. The voter registration system omits some valid voters and includes some who are invalid, undercutting integrity. IHEC lacked licenses for IT software and thus couldn’t perform needed upgrades; and there were no plans to upgrade donated, aging servers and computer terminals. IHEC employees were on contract, not staff, and lacking job descriptions, were often given unsuitable assignments. Supervisors said they were understaffed.

Provincial election offices shortchanged, auditors say
The 19 governate electoral offices (one in each of the 18 Iraqi governates and one in Kurdistan) didn’t get from the USAID contractor IFES “the type or amount of training they asked for or considered appropriate,” including in the use of voter registration databases and settling election disputes. Officials from the governate electoral offices were also excluded from international election study tours conducted by the national elections office, IHEC; which also did not share information gained on those tours with the governates.

This left workers unprepared to administer future elections. The audit also reported that IFES and the U.N.’s UNAMI assistance mission in Iraq failed to coordinate and may have duplicated efforts or given conflicting advice to Iraqis on their fledgling elections system.

Auditors make 11 specific recommendations to USAID’s Iraq management on oversight of the contractor IFES, centered on performing more systematic, thorough and documented work to improve its own performance on the contract, and thus better assist the Iraqis in developing a sustainable elections infrastructure.

USAID responds
USAID’s management, in a response appended to the audit, said it agreed with 10 of the 11 recommendations. The agency stressed that, “despite political pressure from an immature political spectrum in Iraq, IHEC is not imploding nor is it losing staff. It continues to function in every way – administratively, operationally, and in terms of elections event planning, implementation and results announcement.” USAID added that it is not so much that IHEC is not sustainable, but that there has not yet been demonstrable success in “skills transfer from expatriate experts to local Iraqi IHEC staff,” particularly with respect to areas such as finance and administration. USAID said that will be addressed in the current phase of the contract with IFES.

Iraqi governates/Audit of USAID-Iraq's Electoral Technical Assistance Program, USAID OIG

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