Distinguished members of the Council,
Thank you for the opportunity to brief you today on the developments in Guinea-Bissau and the activities of UNIOGBIS.
Following the successful holding of the legislative elections on 10 March, renewed political tensions resulted in a stalemate over the composition of the Executive Bureau of the National Assembly, and delayed the appointment of a prime minister and the formation of a new government. The situation was further complicated by the conclusion of President José Mário Vaz’s five-year term in office on 23 June 2019, amidst differing opinions regarding interim arrangements for the office.
The ECOWAS’ decision on 29 June addressed these issues, enabling the swearing in of a new government on 3 July and determining that President Vaz would remain in Office until the holding of the next presidential election, with limited powers, leaving the management of national affairs to the new Government.
Allow me to commend the Government for the unprecedented achievement on gender parity and the appointment of some highly qualified youth in the new Cabinet. This opens a new window of opportunity for inclusive governance in the country. The 31-member Government is composed solely from the majority alliance, reflecting the results of the legislative elections. However, the recent nomination and replacement of senior officials in key positions, including the new commander of the National Guard, Rear Admiral Agostino Sousa Cordeiro, who is under EU sanctions for his participation in the 2012 coup, has triggered negative reactions from national and international stakeholders.
Meanwhile, the Government has adopted a seven-month emergency plan aimed at providing relief to key sectors namely the education, health, infrastructure and public services sectors. It has also submitted its programme to the National Assembly for approval. However, given the current tensions within and between political parties, including within the majority alliance led by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cabo Verde (PAIGC), the approval of the new Government’s Programme by the National Assembly will be a testament to the majority alliance’s strength and ability to govern the country.
Since the inauguration of the Government, the political arena has been dominated by preparations for the presidential election. Several political parties have organized primaries to select their candidates, while some independent candidates have also emerged. As we approach the 25 September deadline for submission of candidacies to the Supreme Court for validation, we will continue to witness the emergence of new candidates.
Meanwhile, the electoral process remains fraught with challenges. Some political actors have expressed concern about the correction of the voters’ register to regularize approximately 25,000 persons who were disenfranchised in the legislative elections, owing to their fear of fraud. They have also questioned the creation of the new position of Secretary of State for Electoral Management.
There is a general feeling of mistrust among national stakeholders surrounding the electoral process, which must be addressed before the election if we are to ensure a peaceful and consensual process, and an outcome that is accepted by all. To address this, the Group of Five in Bissau, [the African Union, CPLP, ECOWAS, European Union and the UN] has advocated for enhanced procedural control, transparent measures, information-sharing mechanisms, and the development of a communication strategy on the voter correction exercise. Ultimately, the joint message is that the country must remain focused on ensuring the timely holding of the presidential election.
Moreover, yesterday [9 September] an ECOWAS ministerial delegation visited Bissau to assess progress in the organization of the election. In its final communiqué, it insisted that in the absence of consensus by all political parties on the voter register correction exercise, that the same voters’ register used for the legislative elections be applied for the presidential election. It also took note of the decision of the electoral bodies to hold the election during 2019, including the second rounds – if needed. The communiqué also requested a clarification of the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Electoral Management. In its response, the Government indicated today that the correction process will proceed for now but the actual register will be updated only if the presidential candidates agree during an upcoming meeting at the plenary session of the CNE.
Meanwhile, the initiatives taken by the Government and the electoral management bodies (the CNE and GTAPE) to enhance general communication and consultations with political parties, are steps in the right direction. To support this, the UN recommends the establishment of an all-inclusive stakeholders’ platform of national actors for information sharing purposes.
In the meantime, civil society organizations, including women’s groups, have begun preparations for the establishment of a situation room to jointly monitor the election. They have also put in place coordinated efforts for the preparation and implementation of a Code of Conduct for the election.
The Government has developed a consolidated election budget that amounts to USD 5.3 million. The UN is working closely with the authorities and the electoral bodies to fine-tune and finalize the budget. Additionally, the Government has committed to contributing to the electoral budget to cover initial expenses for the presidential election (USD 730,000), in addition to paying the outstanding debt (1.6 million USD) from the legislative elections.
The correction exercise, which started on 24 August, is the first of the major electoral activities, and is expected to end on 24 September. However, less than a quarter of the funding required for this exercise has been disbursed thus far. To address this, UNDP has contributed USD 100,000 to the Basket Fund, while the Government has contributed approximately 160,000 directly to the electoral management bodies (CNE and GTAPE).
Efforts to mobilize resources from the international community have yielded limited results so far. Several pledges and indications of interest have been made but with no actual contribution. We expect the first batch of financial contributions by international partners to arrive before the first week of October. Should the fund arrive, these will be applied to the training of civic educators and training of trainers of polling staff during October.
With 75 days left to the presidential election, it is important that funding is made available now either bilaterally or through the UNDP-managed basket fund, to ensure that the electoral operations of the month of November, namely the training, deployment and payment of polling and security personnel, as well as the movement of materials to all the polling stations, are completed in a timely manner.
I would therefore wish to take this opportunity to encourage international partners to extend their generosity to Guinea-Bissau to provide the necessary financial support for the election with urgency. Time is of the essence. Your contributions will be instrumental in ensuring the holding of the presidential election on 24 November.
Since the formation of the government, UNIOGBIS has developed with the Minister of Women, Family and Social Solidarity, a programme to promote the visibility of the eight women Ministers, to support their out-reach to the population to discuss key public administration programmatic areas from a gender perspective. UNIOGBIS has also supported a civil society network, including women organizations, to monitor and advocate for key reforms during the post-electoral period.
The political environment continues to negatively impact the economic performance of the country and the living conditions of the population.
The human rights situation continues to be negatively impacted by socio-economic tensions, including targeted restrictions on freedom and civil liberties. Upholding these rights remains crucial to sustaining peace, stability and development in Guinea-Bissau.
Meanwhile, drug trafficking and organized crime continue to pose threats to peace and security in the country and beyond. The seizure by the Judiciary Police of about 1,869 kg of cocaine on 2 September, signals that Guinea-Bissau remains a transit route for drug trafficking, but also illustrates the enhanced capacity of the Judiciary Police to combat the scourge. The signing on 2 August, of an MoU between Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia and Senegal, to combat drug trafficking and organised crime along their borders, is a commendable effort to tackle the cross-border threat.
I appeal to the international community to continue to provide financial and technical support to the Government of Guinea-Bissau in its fight against drug trafficking and organized crime, to prevent losing the gains achieved thus far.
Pursuant to Security Council resolution 2458 (2019), measures have been put in place for the UN transition for the prospective closure of UNIOGBIS by 31 December 2020. As a first step, one regional office has been closed and the remaining three will follow by 31 December 2019. Additionally, coordination structures to oversee and plan for the transition have been established in Bissau and at Headquarters.
The development of the UN transition plan including a preliminary Mission drawdown plan is ongoing. A full-scale transition implementation will be launched in close coordination with the UNCT, UNOWAS and the national authorities, following the conclusion of the presidential election.
The UN presence in Guinea-Bissau, has also engaged with the Government on the gradual transfer of the UNIOGBIS residual mandated tasks to the UNCT, UNOWAS, and other partners. With the arrival of the new SRSG, Ms. Rosine Sori-Coulibaly, in Bissau, as of 5 September, scaled up engagement with the Government is planned, in particular after the presidential election.
Meanwhile, UNIOGBIS and UNOWAS have already started strengthening their information sharing arrangements and SRSG Chambas (UNOWAS) has increased his engagement with UNIOGBIS on the political process and has visited Bissau twice this year.
2019 is a pivotal year for Guinea-Bissau to seize the opportunity to end the recurring cycle of instability that has hampered its socio-economic development for decades. The risk of further instability in the period leading to the presidential election is high, with political rivalries and poor economic prospects for the population. The role of national political stakeholders in ensuring stability cannot be overemphasized. All national actors must be mindful of their duties towards the people of Guinea-Bissau and the need to transcend narrow individual and party interests.
All efforts must be made to ensure the timely holding of an inclusive, credible and peaceful presidential election. Both the Government and the international community should abide by their commitments to provide resources for the election.
On the longer run, key institutional reforms, including the Constitutional review, will remain critical to consolidate the country’s stability. Collaboration between all the branches of power and in the National Assembly, will therefore be vital in preparing the ground for an inclusive reforms process. The sustained engagement by international partners will also be crucial to accompany Guinea-Bissau in its path towards lasting stability.
I would like to conclude by commending ECOWAS for its leading role and steadfast commitment towards ensuring stability in Guinea-Bissau, including the maintenance of ECOMIB, despite other security challenges facing the region. Sincere appreciations also go to all partners, including the AU, CPLP, and the EU for their valuable contribution to the stabilization efforts in Guinea-Bissau.