15 December 2006

The U.N. Democracy Fund, which awards grants to projects that try to help promote and consolidate new and restored democracies, is looking for ways to improve the monitoring, evaluation and accountability of its grants. During a meeting in New York, the Fund's advisory board also reviewed progress on the first batch of 125 projects. The board also looked at procedures for checks and balances to ensure the quality of the projects chosen and their consistency with the proposal submitted.

Six areas were identified as funding priorities: strengthening democratic dialogue and support for constitutional processes; civil society empowerment; civic education, voter registration and strengthening of political parties; citizens' access to information; human rights and fundamental freedoms; and accountability, transparency and integrity.

Its first batch of projects, which will receive $36 million between them, cover 110 countries, with the largest share going to the sub-Saharan region. Disbursement of funds has started and will continue over the coming weeks.

In his statement to the board today Amir Dossal, Executive Director of the U.N. Office for Partnerships, said "we are extremely pleased with the quality of the projects and the foreseen impact that they will have in sensitive areas such as strengthening democracy-building capacity of civil society, encouraging greater transparency for citizens and in promoting gender equality."

A promising success story deserves encouragement. While the one-year-old Democracy Fund is casting its net around the U.N. system, it is important to help it develop and find its way in a complicated system within an increasingly delegate world.

No one would contest the general objective. Even autocrats these days look for some sort of a democratic cover. The real test will come in the nature of partnerships established and the kind of leadership directing them. While the individuals directly involved are not looking for the limelight, their record provides a dependable indicator. The Chair of the Advisory Board, Rima Khalaf-Huneidi, was behind the first crucial Arab Development Report, which caused an intellectual upheaval in that region's Development field. A former Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan and Associate Administrator of UNDP, Ms. Khalaf-Huneidi is known for her firm hand in a velvet glove. She would hardly hang around a venture unless effective action is taken to move it ahead.

Similarly, "ex-officio" Amir Dosal, is a solid international civil servant, a proven project leader who remains pleasant and courteous while getting things effectively done. Already the Consultative Group has started to provide expert advice to six U.N. departments, programmes and funds. It also expanded partnerships with influential intellectual groups and inter-governmental bodies like the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Club of Madrid and the Africa Governance Forum.

While there are many lingering questions about what is generally known as the "Ted Turner Fund" -- which will require separate handling -- there is no question that the Democracy Fund is at least starting on the right footing. Here are some basic facts:


On 4 July 2005, the SG announced the creation of the UN Democracy Fund at the Syrte AU summit. The 2005 World Summit reaffirmed democracy as "a universal value", indicating that "there is no single model of democracy, that it does not belong to any country or region", and welcoming "the establishment of a Democracy Fund at the United Nations". In his statement to the press on 31 August 2006, the Secretary-General called on all Members States to support the Democracy Fund and use it as an innovative and flexible mechanism for advancing the UN democracy agenda. Since the UN General Assemblyís welcome, the Fundís work has been endorsed and acknowledged by the 2006 Ministerial Meeting of the Communities of Democracy (CD) the 14th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement and the 6th International Conference of New and Restored Democracies (ICNRD).


The Secretary-Generalís Advisory Board is composed of Dr. Rima Khalaf-Hunaidi [Chair], Prof. Guillermo OíDonnell, Prof. Michael Doyle, the SG of CIVICUS, the Chairman of the International Commission of Jurists, the Executive Director of the UN Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP), Mr. Amir Dossal (ex officio), the Member States appointed by the SG (South Africa, Benin, Hungary, Chile and Indonesia), and the 6 top-donors (Australia, France, Germany, India, Qatar and the USA). The Board met for the first time on 6 March 2006, with attendance of the SG and of the President of the GA to approve the project proposal guidelines, then again on 18 July to review and recommend projects for approval and on 12 December to approve the monitoring and evaluation guidelines and the Accountability, Checks and Balances framework. As the UN Office for Partnerships, UNFIP provides management oversight and institutional housing to the Democracy Fund, which operates as a CSO support platform on democracy-building.


The Programme Consultative Group (PCG) serves as UN inter-agency mechanism that provides expert advice and is comprised of DPA, DPKO, OHCHR, UNDGO, UNDP, UNIFEM and UNODC. The Fundís office is staffed by professional and support personnel, recruited, seconded or detached by UN Departments and Agencies (notably DPA and UNDP). The Fund launched its first call for proposals on 15 April. Safeguards have been built into the funding mechanism through the vetting of the rules and regulations by the Office for Legal Affairs of the UN, the preparation of a financial risk assessment together with the Office of Internal Oversight Services and the Accountability Framework.


1,303 projects were received online, amounting to US $447 million. The proposals were examined and short-listed by the PCG and submitted to the Board. Following the second meeting of the Board on 18 July, a list of 125 projects was submitted to the Secretary-General, who approved it on 31 August. The package, which represents an envelope of US $36 million, is global in reach, covering all regions. The largest share will go to Sub-Saharan Africa (37%). Over 60% of recommended projects were submitted by civil society organizations, 24% by UN agencies and 14% by governmental or regional organizations, most often, in partnership with one another. Funded projects will promote civic education, electoral support and political parties (28%), democratic dialogue and constitutional processes (26%), civil society empowerment (16%), accountability, transparency and integrity (16%), human rights and fundamental freedoms (9%) and access to information (6%). Organisations have been notified of the award in September, and disbursement will take place before the end of 2006.


The Fund has participated in select meetings organised by strategic partners, such as the Africa Governance Forum, the CIVICUS World Assembly, ICNRD-5 Follow-up, ICNRD-6, the IPU Annual Assembly and the OECD-DAC Govnet. The Fund has organised/provided support to a number of policy dialogues: one on strategies to promote democracy (New York, 18 July); a panel on democracy and human rights (March 07, Geneva); and one on transitions to democracy (Budapest, mid-2007). Institutional agreements have been signed with the Club of Madrid, Democratic Control of Armed Forces, IDEA, IPU and Interpeace; the same formal instrument of mutual recognition and collaboration has been offered to other eminent partners. Support is being provided to both the CD and the ICNRD processes.


25 Member States from the North and the South contribute to the Fund, which has received to date US $43.2 million. Another US $9 million in firm pledges are expected before the end of 2006. While founding States have made their second contribution (Chile, Poland and USA), new donors include Denmark, Georgia Ireland, Mongolia, the Republic of Korea and Spain. Contacts have been established with Belgium, Canada, The Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland and funding interest has been expressed by Italy, Japan, Latvia, Mali, Peru, Romania, Sweden and the EC.