LACC Pressured to Quell NEC Probe?

The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission is said to be under intense pressure to quell the ongoing probe of the National Elections Commission’s (NEC) action to award a contract to a company with family links to the chairperson of the Commission.

The probe, which began a month ago, placed the entire leadership of the NEC Board of Commissioners under a full-scale “corruption investigation” for the reported leasing of several pieces of thermometers for a total of US$182,320.

But more than two weeks into the investigation, multiple sources at the LACC have disclosed that the anti-graft institution is under immense pressure to either quell the investigation or dampen the consequences of its findings.

“The LACC is being pressured to dilute the investigation report or prolong it to an unnecessary length of time. The situation has now put the anti-graft institution in a dilemma,” the sources said. “No one can understand why people are going to the extreme to pressure us to quell the investigation when it is in the interest of everybody, the accused and the public,” they added.

When contacted, the LACC’s Executive Director, Cllr. Edward Kla Martin, could not deny nor confirm the sources’ information or argue it and that whatever the case, he and his team are committed to doing what is right for the country.

“It’s not simple to sit in the seat we are in, but we have a duty to our country. I am not confirming to you any inducement or whatever pressure from anywhere placed upon us as we investigate the team from a fellow integrity institution. What I can say to the public is that we will soon be done with our reports and they will be presented to the public,” he said.

Martin further said that the LACC is the bridge between the right and the wrong and, as such, he is doing all he can in his power as provided under the law to help in curtailing corruption.

“Even if there is any such pressure or inducement, we will not taint our reputation by caving in,” Cllr. Martin said

He added that he is not desperate for wealth and is in no way prepared to surrender his “principles of integrity, fair play, accountability, and truth-telling, for the sake of friendship, protection of job or money.” LACC will do the right thing. We will release our reports no later than next week,” Cllr. Martin added.

The fight against corruption is a herculean task in Liberia and at most times thwarted by people in high offices in government, most especially when their interests are involved. Recently, at a forum hosted by the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC), Senate Pro-Tempore, Albert Chie expressed his dissatisfaction with secrets being leaked to the media by people working at integrity institutions, something that evoked reactions of grave concern among members of the audience at the occasion.

Chie was particular about the NEC situation when said the situation involving that body is unfortunate and should have not happened as it has come to be. The LACC’s investigation of the NEC follows a Daily Observer investigative report, published last month, that the NEC was leasing what appears to be overpriced equipment from Tuma Enterprises, a company whose President and Vice President for Operations, Arnold H. Badio and David T. Browne, happen to be the brothers of Davidetta Browne Lansanah, Chairperson of the NEC.

The NEC chairperson is the paternal sister of Tuma’s Vice President Browne, as well as the maternal sister of Tuma’s CEO, Badio. Tuma Enterprises was hired by NEC to provide a facial recognition system for the training of temporary staff ahead of the November 16, 2021 by-elections in four counties, the NEC claimed.

The equipment in question costs not more than US$1,500 on; but NEC opted not to procure its own, spending US$9,166 to rent a single facial recognition system from Tuma Enterprises, a technology firm that NEC claims built software to collect data and transmit data from the equipment to the NEC’s data center. So NEC paid Tuma Enterprises a total of US$183,320 for 20 units of the equipment (and software).

Also, if the NEC had purchased the equipment, it would have saved a whopping US$153,320, while owning the equipment outrightly, instead of leasing it.

A proforma invoice, dated September 9, shows a breakdown of costs for all the equipment and accompanying services for setup and installation, totaling US$182,320 for 20 units of the equipment. One of the thermometers in question is installed at the entrance to the reception desk of the NEC headquarters on 9th Street. The rental equipment was meant to detect the temperatures of trainee poll workers ahead of the November 16 by-elections in Nimba, Bong, Grand Gedeh, and Bomi Counties.

And widely used at entrances to public facilities to monitor access and attendance for safe and efficient access control of personnel, performing non-contact automatic body temperature detection, brushing the human face, and performing high-precision infrared human temperature acquisition, and high effect. NEC boss Lansanah did not deny her relation to David T. Browne and declined to comment when questioned about the issue of conflict of interest.

Anthony Sengbe, the NEC’s Executive Director, claimed that his chair did not influence the bidding process.

Documents provided to the Daily Observer by the NEC suggest that the NEC held a restricted bid process in which three Liberian-owned Information Technology firms, including Tuma Enterprises, were invited to submit sealed bids for the provision of an Electronic Verification System (i.e., facial recognition thermometers).

According to the NEC official, “Tuma Enterprises was the most responsive in the bidding process,” hence their final selection and approval by a panel of procurement officials.