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US aid and voter education

Non-government organisations running voter education programs in Slovakia have three options to secure financial support from the American government - the United States Information Service (USIS), the US Agency for International Development (USAID), or the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
"Programs supported by the United States Government are non-partisan," said William Schofield, Charge d'Affaires of the American Embassy in a public statement. But deciding which programs are "non-partisan" and then how much suppport to give each project may be fraught with risk.
According to Paula O. Goddard, USAID representative in Slovakia, the term 'non-partisan' is defined very strictly by the agency. "To us, non-partisan [means] simply emphasizing participation in the election but not emphasizing any positions or any candidates," she said.

Non-government organisations running voter education programs in Slovakia have three options to secure financial support from the American government - the United States Information Service (USIS), the US Agency for International Development (USAID), or the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

"Programs supported by the United States Government are non-partisan," said William Schofield, Charge d'Affaires of the American Embassy in a public statement. But deciding which programs are "non-partisan" and then how much suppport to give each project may be fraught with risk.

According to Paula O. Goddard, USAID representative in Slovakia, the term 'non-partisan' is defined very strictly by the agency. "To us, non-partisan [means] simply emphasizing participation in the election but not emphasizing any positions or any candidates," she said.

USAID, as an arm of the American Embassy, has already supported certain Slovak voter education programs. Among them are projects administered by the Confederation of Slovak Labor Unions (KOZ), Občianské oko '98 (Public Eye '98), working under the US National Democratic Institute, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), and Pro-Media, working under the American International Research and Exchange Board.

The KOZ labour union's non-partisan character has been questioned in the Slovak media since KOZ leaders held round table discussions with three opposition political parties. But Goddard said that USAID had been satisfied with the KOZ's apolitical stance at a two-day conference the agency funded in April, and explained that USAID had contingeny plans for dealing with backsliding NGO's. "The [funding] agreement is for a specific set of activities," she said, adding that in the event an organization funded by USAID later broke the non-partisan rules of the agreement, "we have the right to take the money back."

Goddard wasn't immediately able to specify how much money USAID had spent on funding Slovak voter education programs, but USIS representative Edwina Sagitto said that her agency set a ceiling of $24,000 (833,000 Sk) on funding for such projects.

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