Liberia: EKEMP Flops NEC’s Biometric Re-demonstration

— Seeks redress from Elections Commission

The bid evaluation panel at the National Elections Commission (NEC) has concluded its supervision of the re-demonstration by companies vying to produce the technical and logistical expertise for the production of biometric voter registration (VR) card to be used in the 2023 Legislative and Presidential Elections but Ekemp International, along with its partners has written the Commission complaining of not having received fair treatment as compared to other companies.

In its complaint letter dated October 8, 2022, copy of which is in the possession of the Daily Observer, the joint venture (JV) comprising Ekemp, INITS and Palm Insurance said the evaluation panel interrupted their presentation by requesting a PowerPoint projection, which, according to the joint venture, was not a part of the re-demonstration exercise and that companies before them were not asked to do same.

“At about a quarter of the time left allotted to us, while we were demonstrating the enrollment process on the tablet, the evaluation panel interrupted us and requested that we connect the tablet to the projector so that more people would be able to see what was being displayed. To fulfill the panel’s request, we had to quickly change some configurations on the tablet. As this became time consuming, we returned to the software demonstration and printing of the card but noticed that the configuration to project the tablet on the wider screen had affected both the wire and wireless printing functions of the tablet,” Yan Liu said.

Liu is Ekemp’s Managing Director and head of the joint venture with INITS, a Nigerian company and Palm Insurance, a Liberian company.

Liu said the action of the panel obstructed his joint venture’s precision to produce the sample biometric voter registration card in the allotted two hours’ time of the presentation.

“As a result of this, we could not complete the demonstration process in the allotted time. Notwithstanding, we were able to successfully print the card in the presence of some of the evaluation panelists and observers when we finally had time to resolve this configuration matter. The evaluation panel received the printed card,” he disclosed.

Liu: “We now know that no other participant during this entire re-demonstration exercise was asked or required to project the equipment on the wider screen, not to mention the seemingly abrupt interruptions by the evaluation panel for something that was not a requirement for this exercise.”

Meanwhile, based on the alleged interruption by the evaluation panel, Ekemp, along with partners has asked NEC to either consider its demonstration done on August 9 that was considered and filed with the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC) or be given time to reappear and complete its full enrolment process. 

The call for a video recorded re-demonstration was made to NEC by the PPCC on grounds that the need to have all documented relevant facts suggesting the preference of any company is compelling and should be given due attention.

All efforts, including text messages and phone calls from the Daily Observer to Cllr. Teage Jalloh, head of the Biometric Procurement Evaluation Panel at NEC, did not materialize, nor did we receive any reply from him.

An unimpeachable source at the Elections Commission, who preferred anonymity, told the Daily Observer, however, that it will be good if the right thing is done and it is the wish of the NEC that PPCC receives the reports in good faith and ensures that all sides get equal and fair treatment.

“The [NEC], I believe, is not desperate in choosing Ekemp, but the decision that led to the request for a “No Objection” was well informed from the thorough evaluation of all of the companies. Trust me, the other companies are also good and I am certain they are capable of doing the job but, when you have several people scoring the same grade, let’s say 99 or 100, there are other non-academic factors that are considered to make one of them the dux of the class,” the source said, noting that Ekemp is a manufacturer of biometric gadgets and some, if not all of the companies that applied, buy the materials from Ekemp.

Another source, who closely followed the re-demonstration process, argued that Ekemp’s excuse is not genuine, as it had the same time as any other company and as such, there is no reason to complain about not being able to project their presentation.

In its report, signed on August 29 but submitted to PPCC on August 30, NEC’s bid evaluation panel noted that “Only the joint venture of Ekemp International Limited, INITS, and Palm Insurance Incorporated and the joint venture of Professional Services Incorporated (PSI) and HID Global were responsive to the pre-financing requirement, which was a major requirement for the evaluation.”

The panel added that “Others, including the joint venture of Waymark Infotech and Mwenata were non-responsive.”

Now, whether NEC will consider HID Global and partners, should its apparent favorite, Ekemp, flop to meet PPCC’s consideration as provided for by law, is the question to which the Commission is yet to respond.

HID Global and partners, the Daily Observer is reliably informed, was asked lately to appear for the re-demonstration process.

NEC wrote on September 27 citing all companies to appear for the re-demonstration process but HID, the Daily Observer learnt, received its invitation on October 4 to appear on October 6, a situation that prevented its U.S. based firm from appearing but selected its local partner, PSI to demonstrate.

NEC’s excuse, the Daily Observer is reliably informed, was that emails could not be sent at the time they wanted to have informed the partner but did not state why the Commission could not communicate via telephone via the contact numbers provided by the companies.

HID Global, an American company worth over US$6 billion, is said to have passed all of the criteria set by the Panel of NEC, but the Elections Commission is left with the decision to inform the PPCC of its preference.

All efforts to hear from the PSI head in Liberia did not materialize as he declined to answer calls and respond to text messages as well.

The NEC in August wrote the PPCC requesting a “No Objection” approval in order to award the biometric voter registration process to Ekemp, but PPCC declined to grant the approval, citing NEC’s lack of provision of a video recorded demonstration, suggesting that Ekemp truly has the capacity to do the job.

Both heads of NEC and PPCC and their technical teams were cited at the Liberian Senate to answer questions on the delay surrounding the procurement process. 

When they appeared, NEC Chairperson Davidetta Brown Lansanah explained that her bid evaluation Committee had done a good job and found out that, of all the bidders, the most technically responsive firm was the JV of Ekemp (Chinese) INITS (Nigerian) and their local partner Palm Insurance Inc. 

The PPCC boss, Atty. Roseline N. Kowo, on the other hand, refuted claims that her office was stalling the procurement process. Kowo informed the Liberian Senate that she was not delaying the procurement process as accused by the NEC boss, but only wanted NEC to do the right thing.

In time, Ekemp, after placing on its website NEC’s logo suggesting that the Commission is already one of its customers and partners, removed the logo when both the Daily Observer and Front-page Africa ran news articles bringing the company to public scrutiny.

Liberia has never done biometric voter registration, except that the government, led by President George Manneh Weah, wants to introduce the system for the 2023 Elections in a bid to have what it claims should be a credible, flawless, and unmanipulated final voter registration roll (FRR), as recommended by the Supreme Court in 2017 following numerous litigations from the polls at the time.