Liberia: 2023 Biometric VR in Limbo 

NEC chair Davidetta Browne Lansanah. 

“The Inability of the NEC’s recommended bidder to print the PVC card on the spot as required by the NEC, and within time, showed uncertainty on the usage of its equipment,” said the PPCC Executive Director Kowo as she rejected the NEC ‘no objection request.

With barely seven weeks to the scheduled start of voter registration for the 2023 presidential and legislative elections, the National Elections Commission (NEC) has yet to convince the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC) to approve the NEC chairperson’s preferred bidder to provide the system. 

The current stalemate between the NEC and the PPCC over the joint venture led by Chinese firm EKEMP, means the NEC is running out of time to fulfill its mandate to conduct a credible biometric voter registration exercise, which is expected to start on December 15, according to the updated elections timetable released by the electoral body. 

Since the PPCC rejected the electoral body's request for a 'no objection' to award the EKEMP joint venture the contract for the supply of biometric election materials, NEC continues to hope that PPCC will change its mind.

“The Inability of the NEC’s recommended bidder Ekemp/Palm Insurance /INITS (J.V) to print the PVC card on the spot as required by the NEC, and within time, showed uncertainty on the usage of its Equipment and raises doubts on the effective workability as required for the issuance of a printed PVC card to a registrant during the Voter Registration period,” the  PPCC Executive Director, Atty. Jargbe Kowo, said in a  reply to the NEC request. 

Kowo added, “That a material failure in the functionality of a bidder’s biometric equipment that is required to print a registrant voter card on spot, must be taken into serious consideration by the NEC, the State’s Elections Management Body; for such could be a Potential High Risk for the upcoming First Biometric Voter Registration Exercise for Liberia, that is covering the country in its entirety.”

According to Kowo, the electoral body should immediately return to quickly examining the remaining bids in order to pick a candidate who is capable of doing the required work. It is unclear, however, if the NEC Board of Commissioners intends to act on the PPCC proposal and when this will occur.

Ignoring the malfunctioning and failure in a biometric equipment functionality to readily print the PVC card, on the spot as required is a major anomaly,” Kowo said. 

“As such the NEC should not have deemed EKEMP as the most responsive company for this contract package,” the PPCC boss noted. 

The NEC re-selection of EKEMP joint venture comes as the Chairperson of the electoral body,  Davidetta Browne Lansanah,  has been accused of unilaterally reselecting EKEMP as the preferred vendor to provide biometric equipment for the 2023 voter registration exercise and the ensuing elections. 

Lansanah has been accused by some of the NEC Commissioners, who spoke to the Daily Observer on condition of anonymity last week, that she was proceeding with the decision without their consent. The New Elections Law by which the Commission operates is disrespected in many ways, almost all of the time, by the NEC Chairperson, who is only designated as a spokesperson, they said.

“We are shocked. This is becoming seriously embarrassing. Some of us don’t know why only this EKEMP, even when the company flopped the other day in their re-demonstration process. The public must know that the decision is Lansanah’s [personal] decision.”

Section 2.10 of “The New Election Law” grants the NEC chairperson the authority to “be the official spokesperson; preside over all meetings of election contests and controls, supervise and direct the administrative operation of the office of the Commission and, in consultation with the Commissioners, take such corrective administrative measures for the smooth and effective operation of the Commission.”

But, according to some of the Commissioners, consultations to arrive at major decisions such as awarding contracts are usually “done by Lansanah and her preferred confidantes.”

The joint venture comprising EKEMP, INITS, and Palm Insurance, was among five other companies, including HID Global and PSI, Laxton and its local partner as well as Network Solutions and Waymark & Mwetana, all of who participated in the first demonstration process. EKEMP won the bid, according to the NEC, and a “no objection” request was submitted on August 30, which was the first. 

However, the request was rejected on Sept. 9 by the PPCC on grounds that that still photos submitted by the NEC were not enough evidence to award the joint venture the million dollars contract. The PPCC, while objecting to the request, excoriated the NEC for claiming that EKEMP and its joint venture partners met all of its bid requirements when the fact speaks contrary. 

PPCC noted that from the review of the NEC’s request, it observed that none of the electoral body’s bid evaluation panel in its entirety watched the bid demonstrations exercise, as there is no proof showing a full report of the demonstration process,” Kowo said in a Sept. 9 letter to the NEC chairperson explaining the reason behind the rejection.  “The NEC should note that the photos submission cannot do justice to depicting the physical demonstrations, for they are still and static illustrations that cannot rightly capture the motions of the enrolment and deduplication process.”

“A very key role of the Commission under its prior review mandates is to authenticate that the bidding processes conducted are done in line with applicable procedures, fairly, transparently; and that bidders are treated equitably in terms of review and scrutiny,” Kowo added.

A call for a video-recorded re-evaluation was then issued by PPCC and NEC accepted to do so, after the Senate had also reviewed the findings and listened to both PPCC and NEC. 

In the video-recorded re-demonstration process, EKEMP failed to print in the allotted time a sample biometric voter ID card with all the required security features. They eventually printed, but only after the time had elapsed and the observers had left.

EKEMP then wrote the procurement evaluation committee, complaining that they were not treated fairly as other companies since other companies were not asked to do any PowerPoint presentation. The NEC did not look into the case when EKEMP went to the Supreme Court and filed a Writ of Prohibition on the entire procurement process.

The Court however threw the case out and asked EKEMP to return to NEC and exhaust the available remedies the Commission has.