LACC Probes NEC in 'Family Affair' Deal with Tuma Enterprises

NEC Chairperson Davidetta Browne Lansanah (center), is the sister of David T. Browne (left) and Arnold H. Badio (right), Vice President for Operations and President/CEO of Tuma Enterprises, respectively.

The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission has announced a probe into the National Election Commission for allegedly awarding a contract to a company that has a link with the chairperson of the Commission. 

The LACC, in a statement disclosed that they have placed the entire leadership of the NEC Board of Commissioners under full-scale “corruption investigation” for the reported leasing of several pieces of thermometers costing US$182,320.

“LACC was deeply concerned about the reports and it is determined to have an understanding of all elements of the transaction,” the statement noted. 

According to the LACC,  the seven members of the Board of  Commissioners and other senior executives of the “NEC will begin making statements at the LACC from November 19, 2021.”

The LACC’s decision follows reports published by the Daily Observer newspaper that the NEC was leasing equipment from a company whose Vice President for Operations, David T. Browne, happens to be the biological brother of Davidetta Browne Lansanah, Chairperson of the NEC. The company, Tuma Enterprises, was hired by NEC to provide a facial recognition system for the conduct of this by-election in four counties.

It has also been discovered that the NEC chairperson is not only the paternal sister of Tuma’s Vice President but is also the maternal sister of Tuma’s CEO, Arnold Badio. 

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. That means NEC paid Tuma Enterprises a total of US$183,320 for 20 units of the equipment.  

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. At the NEC, sources there told the Daily Observer that, although the general intended purpose of the equipment remains good, its price tag is alarming.

They accused NEC of secretly outsourcing the contract to Tuma Enterprise, a company due to the chairperson link. A proforma invoice, dated September 9, 2021, shows a breakdown of costs for all the equipment and accompanying services for setup and installation, totaling 182,320 for 20 units of the equipment.

The proforma invoice details include “customizable COVID-19 preventive measures, contactless temperature check with accuracy within 0.5 degrees and facial detection indicating mask-wearing,” among others.  One of the thermometers in question is installed at the entrance to the reception desk of the NEC headquarters on 9th Street.

According to IT personnel at the NEC, the 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. The equipment leased by NEC is widely used at entrances to public facilities to monitor access and attendance for safe and efficient access control of personnel.

And it is expected to perform non-contact automatic body temperature detection, brush human face, and perform high-precision infrared human temperature acquisition, and high effect. Before the Daily Observer learned about the family connection between Commissioner Lansanah and Tuma Enterprises, multiple attempts were made by the newspaper to seek clarity from the NEC communication’s office and Madam Lansanah herself, but to no avail.

However, Madam Lansanah did not deny her relation to David T. Browne but declined to comment further, especially when questioned about the issue of conflict of interest. 

But  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. 

PPCC’s role

The Daily Observer’s report preceding this report has mentioned that the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) could not trace any documents related to the NEC leasing of the digital thermometers and the clarity provided yesterday by the NEC Executive Director was that the amount used to procure the materials was below the PPCC’s threshold.

Roseline Kowo, the PCC Executive Director disclosed that details about the rental agreement are yet to reach her desk and had no idea about NEC’s transaction.

“Maybe they did a restricted bidding process. That process comes up when the cost of a transaction is less than US$200,000 but, again, we are working out ways to seek legal support to thwart that. I am not accusing anyone, but too many things [that are] not in the best interest of transparency and accountability go on through those amounts that are below US$200,000,” Madam Kowo said.