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Cablegate: Ethiopia: National Election Board Reforms Moving

VZCZCXRO8910
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHDS #2123/01 2150653
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 030653Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1888
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ADDIS ABABA 002123

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF/E
LONDON, PARIS, ROME FOR AFRICA WATCHER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM ET
SUBJECT: ETHIOPIA: NATIONAL ELECTION BOARD REFORMS MOVING
FORWARD

REF: ADDIS ABABA 02032

1. (U) SUMMARY. On July 27, Pol/Econ Counselor and Poloff
met with British election expert Hannah Roberts and Rosanna
Dudziak of the UNDP to discuss progress on the reorganization
and capacity building of the Ethiopian National Elections
Board (NEB). In early 2006, Roberts completed a study
identifying structural limitations and operational
incapacities of the NEB. Roberts is currently collaborating
with the NEB on a strategic plan that will enable it to
better meet the challenges of the 2007 local elections, as
well as federal elections in 2010. These changes will likely
entail the hiring of large numbers of new staff at the
beginning of 2007; the donor community plans to supply
training and technological upgrades to support this effort.
END SUMMARY.

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--------------------------------------------- ------
NEB IN NEED OF, AND OPEN TO, REFORM RECOMMENDATIONS
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (U) Hannah Roberts, a British elections expert with
significant experience in elections observation and
organization, briefed Pol/Econ Counselor and Poloff on her
ongoing work with the NEB. During her initial work with the
NEB prior to the May 2005 federal parliamentary elections,
her organization Electoral Reform International Services
(ERIS), played a critical part in supporting the NEB,s
capacity to administer an election with participation of over
25 million voters. Following the elections, the donor
community, opposition parities, and the GoE all agreed that
the NEB is one of the key areas of focus in reforms aimed at
avoiding any potential future election-related controversies.

3. (SBU) Hannah Roberts was commissioned in early 2006 to
study the strengths and weaknesses of the NEB in its present
form, as well as to formulate general recommendations to
address the problem areas. In her report, she identified the
following problems with the current NEB:

- The Secretariat is chronically under-resourced and in
urgent need of organizational reform;

- It has an inadequate staff and the qualifications and
experience base is insufficient (NOTE. Roberts informed us
there were approximately 140 employees at the central NEB
offices to administer the 2005 elections. END NOTE);

- The NEB is reliant upon other federal agencies for its
regional representation.

- The total NEB running cost for the 2005 elections were less
than $0.36 per registered voter.

4. (SBU) Although her study found significant structural and
organizational shortcomings, she reported that during her
research she received full cooperation from the management of
the NEB Secretariat, as well as from those at the working
level and in other parts of the GoE. Roberts feels that this
support is the result of &a genuine commitment and interest
(on the part of the NEB) to make things better.8 In her
report she notes that there is strong motivation at the
senior and lower levels of the Secretariat to undertake
institutional reform. In addition to regular workshops and
staff meetings in order to gather information, Roberts
reported having several meetings with Chairman of the NEB
Board of Governors, Kemal Bedri, as well as the Acting Chief
Executive of the Secretariat, Tesfaye Mengesha.

5. (SBU) The initial report was published in March 2006 and
contained recommendations focused on the bolstering of the
thin staffing levels and the training up of potential new
hires, as well as the existing staff. Though she outlined in
her report a new organizational structure under which the NEB
would be more effective, she felt it was necessary to further
develop a strategic plan for the staffing and operation of a
newly structured NEB on a department-by-department basis.
Roberts was subsequently engaged to develop this plan and she
anticipates completion by the end of August. She informed
Pol/Econ Counselor that, if approved, the new organization
structure will bring the new NEB in line with international
standards of effective electoral administrations. She voiced

ADDIS ABAB 00002123 002 OF 002


concern that if no changes are implemented, the NEB's current
structure will make future federal and local elections as
problematic as those of 2005. Roberts proposed that the donor
community be involved in supporting development and capital
costs, particularly in the area of training and IT
infrastructure.

---------------------------------------
NEXT STEPS: APPROVAL AND IMPLEMENTATION
---------------------------------------

6. (SBU) In order for a recommended restructuring to become
effective, it must be first approved by the Ethiopian Civil
Service Commission. Following this, the required legal
changes must be submitted to the Legal and Administration
Affairs Standing Committee of the Ethiopian House of People's
Representatives (HPR), which will reconvene in October. NEB
reforms already have a place on the agenda of the ongoing
dialogue between the GoE and opposition parties; the
recommended restructuring plan, prior to open discussion by
the HPR, will be the topic of multi-party talks similar to
those that took place in June regarding parliamentary
procedural reform (reftel). (NOTE: It is also anticipated
that once the HPR reconvenes, a new NEB Board of Governors
will also be nominated by the Prime Minister and approved by
the HPR. Senior EPRDF officials have indicated that the
ruling party will consult opposition leaders before naming
new board members. END NOTE)

7. (U) Once a restructuring of the Secretariat of NEB is
approved by the HPR, the NEB will then be faced with the task
of staffing the numerous new positions created as a result of
the restructuring. Roberts anticipates that this process
will take until the beginning of 2007, at which point she
feels it will be important to have training programs in
place. In addition to the challenge of developing and
implementing training programs, Roberts noted that the NEB
Secretariat will be simultaneously preparing for the woreda

SIPDIS
and kebele level elections that are anticipated to take place
before the end of 2007, which will be particularly
challenging for the newly restructured NEB. Roberts felt
that this heightens the need for donor involvement in guiding
the NEB through the establishment of a solid foundation.

--------------------------------------------- --------------
COMMENT: NEB REFORMS ESSENTIAL TO RESTORE PUBLIC CONFIDENCE
--------------------------------------------- --------------

8. (SBU) Much criticism of Ethiopia's 2005 federal elections
has focused on a supposedly compromised NEB board. In fact,
lack of capacity at the NEB appears to have been a major
problem as well. Hannah Roberts played a key role in working
with the NEB during the 2005 parliamentary elections, and has
continued to be an important player in the implementation of
critically needed structural changes to the NEB Secretariat.
Through her nonpartisan work and extensive experience, she
seems to have gained the trust and confidence of the NEB
leadership. A critical stage in the acceptance of her final
recommendations will be the multi-party dialogue likely to
occur in September. Achieving consensus on NEB reform will
be essential to restoring the credibility of the NEB. Post
will be engaged with ruling and opposition parties during
this time to encourage cohesive and productive talks. The
first test of the credibility of a newly restructured NEB
will be local elections currently anticipated by the end of
2007. Ethiopia's democracy can ill-afford another election
plagued with irregularities.
HUDDLESTON

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