Transcript of weekly UNAMA press briefing
KABUL - UN agency highlights and reaction to questions on the forthcoming presidential election second round from UNAMA spokesperson Aleem Siddique.
OVER 50,000 RETURNEES GET SHELTER ASSISTANCE IN 2009
As 2009 draws to a close, the UN refugee agency is nearing completion of a shelter programme benefiting more than 50,000 returnees this year.
As in previous years, UNHCR shelters in 2009 are implemented in provinces of high return and for those who are the most vulnerable among returnees and Internally Displaced Persons. Getting shelter is one of the most pressing needs of returning refugees, along with land, jobs and security. Recognizing this, UNHCR has allocated a significant part of its budget to its shelter programme.
Since 2002 until the end of September 2009, UNHCR has provided shelter assistance to almost 190,000 vulnerable returnee families, benefiting an estimated 1.2 million returnees, mainly in rural areas across the country. This represents coverage of approximately 25 per cent of the more than 4.3 million returnee assisted by UNHCR since 2002. Out of the more than 8,000 shelters planned in 2009, some 7,000 beneficiary families have been selected and construction is ongoing.
UNHCR’s re-integration program will continue for the next two years, especially in the shelter sector. It will also continue supporting the government-led programme to allocate land to landless returnees.
More than 4.3 million Afghans have been assisted home by UNHCR since 2002, including 3.4 million from Pakistan and over 865,000 from Iran.
BAMYAN TO BE ILLITERACY FREE BY 2014
The provincial government of Bamyan with the support of international agencies has launched the literacy campaign to make Bamyan an illiteracy-free province in the next five years.
The campaign started on 17 October 2009. The week until 24 October 2009, UN Day, was declared as Literacy Week in Bamyan in support to UN efforts towards peace and development in Bamyan.
The figures from Bamyan’s department of education show around 110,000 students are enrolled in schools which make up some 20 per cent of the total population.
Through this campaign, every literate resident of Bamyan will teach at least two illiterate persons and make them able to read and write.
Civil society groups and NGOs have joined the campaign and UN agencies have already started this. During this first phase, Bamyan’s university students and high school students will teach their illiterate family members during their winter vacation.
The United Nations is supporting education as the most sustainable means to peace and development.
WHO LAUNCHES ANTI-TETANUS CAMPAIGN IN EASTERN REGION
United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO) launched anti-tetanus vaccination campaign in 19 districts of the eastern region on Saturday, 24 October 2009, marking the UN Day.
The five-day campaign aims to reach out to 200,000 women of child-bearing age (15 to 45 years) in nine districts of Nangarhar Province (Achin, Dibala, Goshta, Hisarak, Khogiyani, Rodat, Shirzad, Lalpur and Durbaba), three districts of Kunar Province (Chapa Dara, Marawara and Pich), one district of Laghman Province (Dawlat Shah) and all six districts of Nuristan Province (Mandol, Nurgram, Wama, Waigal, Kamdesh, Bargimatal). There are 50 districts in the four provinces of the region.
WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have mobilized 22,000 vaccinators, supervisors, monitors and health workers in the campaign.
This is the first anti-tetanus campaign this year and the second ever in the eastern Region. The first ever anti-tetanus campaign was launched in 2008.
UNDAF LAUNCHED ON THE OCCASION OF UN DAY
The United Nations Development Framework, in support of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS), was launched this weekend at Badam Bagh farm by Dr Jalil Shams, Minister of Economy and the UN Deputy SRSG Robert Watkins.
This framework, which is the first of its kind is to support Afghanistan in terms of development from 2010 to 2013, has picked up three main sectors as followed for its priorities:
1. Governance, Peace and Stability;
2. Sustainable livelihood including agriculture food security and income generation;
3. Health, Education, Water and Sanitation.
Based on this framework which has already been agreed with the Afghan government, around US$ 4 billion will be spent during the coming four years for related projects.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
NOOR TV [translated from Dari]: It was announced that UNAMA will fire some of its staff members. I would like to know if this process has already started and who are the high ranking people included in this process?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: There is a lot of confusion about this issue. Let me make this point very clear. The United Nations is not sacking or hiring any staff. These elections and this run-off are an Afghan-led process. The United Nations through UNDP/ELECT is providing electoral support to Afghanistan’s electoral institutions, in terms of planning, logistics and oversight.
The run-off that we are approaching is going to be far simpler to implement than the first round. There will only be one election taking place between two candidates. The Independent Election Commission is reviewing the number of polling locations and staff required for the run-off. As a part of that, they will obviously be looking at staffing and there is likely to be a need for far less staff for the second round. We have received assurances from the Independent Election Commission that there will be certain categories of staff that will not be rehired. We expect the IEC will not rehire staff who have either not followed procedures correctly or were complicit in fraud.
But there are other categories [of staff] who will not be rehired: those staff who are unavailable to participate in the second round and those who choose not to work as part of the second round. The significant reduction of staff we will see should reduce the opportunities for irregularities to occur or for potential or attempted fraud. We look forward to the IEC finalizing these numbers in the coming days.
WASHINGTON POST: We have been hearing about the possibilities of Dr Abdullah withdrawing from this run-off. We would like to know what’s your understanding on that? And, also, if for any reasons he does withdraw, what does the constitution and election law say should happen then?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: We have been in close contact with both campaign teams over the course of this process whom have raised concerns about one or the other electoral institutions of this country. These concerns have been addressed as they have been raised resulting in a legitimate and fair first round result that has now been accepted by both of the main candidates. We are now asking the candidates to allow these institutions to work together for the run-off to ensure that we have a second round outcome that is again accepted by both candidates.
In terms of the situation if one of the candidates wants to withdraw. I think we need to allow the Independent Election Commission to give its opinion first on what the legal situation will be regarding that possible scenario. This is an Afghan-led process, we have said it repeatedly and we must allow the mandated electoral body serving this country to speak first on this particular issue.
RFE/RL [translated from Dari]: Dr Abdullah has said that some members of the IEC should be removed. Has anything been done by the UN in that regard? And, second, in the first round there were a lot of security measures put in place. What about the second round? And third, will we have international observers this time?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: I refer you to comments I just made in response to the Washington Post's question regarding Dr Abdullah's recent comments on senior IEC officials. We have got to the situation where both candidates have accepted the first round outcome with the IEC and ECC working together. Both campaign teams have expressed concerns at different times in this process over those electoral institutions and I think that is to be expected in any hotly contested elections.
But the important point to note here is that both candidates have accepted the first round outcome with both of those institutions working together.
We are talking to the candidates. We are reminding them that we would like them to accept the run-off outcome with both of these institutions working together. That is where we are on that particular point.
We are encouraged by recent comments from the security institutions that preparations are well in hand for the security plan for the run-off. We hope the security institutions will be able to step up these efforts for the run-off to ensure that we can maximize voters' turn out. But it is the security institutions of this country that will be able to give you the latest picture of where they are with security preparations. UNAMA is meeting regularly with, both, the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence and offering our support as preparations for the run-off continue.
On the issue of international observation mission: Yes, we would like to see those observations missions who were present during the first round to return for the second round so that the Afghan people can have faith in the conduct of the second round.
SALAM WATANDAR [translated from Dari]: Dr Abdullah has raised his concerns about the IEC officials who were involved in the fraud, and that they should be prosecuted. But they still continue their jobs. The other precondition of Dr Abdullah was the removal of three IEC officials, and Peter Galbraith also said that in their presence the IEC cannot remain independent. Please comment.
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: I again refer you to the comments that I made to the Washington Post and to the lady over here. We realize and acknowledge that both campaign teams have raised concerns about one or another electoral institution. But what we have seen with the first round is that both candidates committed to the first round outcome that was finalised by the two electoral institutions of this country, working together to give a fair and legitimate first round outcome.
Let me make this very clear: The United Nations does not hire or fire any electoral staff. But we do want to see a better run-off than what we saw in the first round. We want to see less fraud in the run-off. And we are talking, both to the IEC and the other electoral institutions of this country, and supporting them in their efforts to have a cleaner run-off so that both candidates can have faith in the final outcome of the run-off. That is where the focus of our efforts are at this moment in time.
PAJHWOK NEWS AGENCY [translated from Dari]: You just mentioned about the concerns expressed by both campaigns of the candidates. We would like you to elaborate about those concerns. Whether these concerns have to do with the withdrawal of Dr Abdullah, coalition government or some other concerns? We need to know about those concerns expressed by those campaign teams.
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: I am not a politician. Politicians have raised concerns. Some of those concerns have been shared with us. You will appreciate that those are private conversations that we have with both campaign teams. I am sure both campaign teams would be very happy to share with the media the concerns that they may have. Can I suggest that you speak to the campaign teams to get it from the horse’s mouth exactly what their concerns may be.
SABA TV: Some sectors of Afghanistan said the second election will also not be free. What’s your feeling about this?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: I would like to refer you to comments that the Special Representative, Kai Eide made very early on in this process, which was that these elections were never going to be easy. They are probably the most difficult and complicated elections any country could face in this particular moment in time.
We are holding elections here in downtown Kandahar, not downtown Geneva.
So I think it is important that we are realistic in the efforts that can be made. But we need to give credit to the electoral institutions of this country that they have taken us so far in this process. All throughout the process, we have heard, this is not possible, that is not possible. But we are here now and preparations are now in full swing for a second round.
At every stage, challenges have been faced and overcome.
We are now weeks away from the run-off, and we want to see a better and cleaner run-off than the first round. And there will be no let-up on the part of the United Nations in supporting the electoral institutions of this country so we can get the best possible run-off.
TAMADON TV [translated from Dari]: I don’t know if our questions are not clear or whether Mr Aleem Siddique is skillfully escaping on touching the main point that we are expecting to hear.
The concerns that have been expressed by Dr Abdullah are not about the institution itself but the staff working there. He also mentioned the names of a number of senior staff there. We just want to know the position of UNAMA on those particular staff.
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: Let us make this very clear. These are Afghan elections; these are not United Nations elections. We are not hiring any staff, and we are not sacking any staff. If that remains unclear, I am happy to speak at length after the press conference to make that clearer.
BBC: Could you please give us details about the international efforts regarding the run-off...the sources and how much money has been given for this run-off?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: There was somewhere in the region of US$ 380 million budgeted for the whole electoral process and that includes the first and the second round. In terms of donors, I don't have that information to hand. But if you speak to us afterwards, we would be happy to get you that information from UNDP/ELECT.
TOLO TV: Can you tell us, in particular, your vision with regard to the IEC – whether it is really independent or not? And considering that there was widespread fraud that took place during the first round, do you think there will be a big turnout during the second round of elections?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: I have said everything that we have needed to say on the IEC. We recognize that there are concerns, not just about the IEC, but about the other electoral institutions and it depends on which campaign team you listen to regarding which institution they have concerns over.
Everybody recognizes the irregularities and the extent of fraud that we saw in the first round; a point that was made very clear by the Special Representative at his meeting to the [UN] Security Council last month.
We've also made very clear – at the beginning of this process – that this was always going to be a very difficult election for Afghanistan at this moment in time. These are also the first elections that are being led by the Afghan institutions themselves. As I said earlier, these are elections being held in downtown Kandahar, in downtown Helmand, not downtown Geneva.
But the important point here is that – we have, despite the challenges, despite the hurdles – we have a first round outcome that both major campaigns have accepted.
And nobody wants to see a repeat of the level of fraud that we saw in the first round. We will support these young electoral institutions of Afghanistan to step up their efforts in preparation of that run-off, so we have the cleanest possible run-off that we can in the short time available to us.
Our vision is to see a final outcome that is accepted by both candidates and one that faithfully reflects the will of the people of Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s voters deserve nothing less. Thank you very much.