Liberia: Jittery Senators Summon NEC over Elections Preparations
— Majority of the senators are worried that there could be delay in the electoral process due to financial and other constraints.
Senators who are poised to seek re-election at the polls come October are becoming jittery, fearing that the polls may not come as scheduled.
The Senators' fear has pushed them to summon the entire leadership of the National Elections Commission (NEC) to ascertain its level of preparation, considering the biometric voter registration exercise just a couple of weeks away.
The Senate, in unanimous decision, cited the electoral body board to appear next week to provide an update regarding preparation for the October 10, 2023 presidential and legislative elections.
This comes after the chairperson of the Senate committee on Rules, Order and Administration wrote a strongly-worded communication warning of the risks to the election calendar if NEC is not prepared in time for the nationwide biometric voter registration exercise.
The letter from Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence of Grand Bassa County Senator Lawrence, who is not among the 15 Senators seeking re-election, warned that there are visible indications that the “NEC is running against time on the conduct of the nationwide biometric voter registration exercise.”
“The ensuing October 10, 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections present yet another historic opportunity for Liberia to foster a continuous path of sustained peace and democratic governance under the rule of law. To achieve this momentous accomplishment, the 2023 elections must be conducted in a credible, transparent, free and fair manner as guaranteed by the new elections law of Liberia,” the Senator said.
Based on the importance of Karnga-Lawrence’s communication, the Senate unanimously voted to summon the NEC’s Board of Commissioners to discuss its preparedness to conduct the 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections.
Majority of the senators are worried that there could be delay in the electoral process due to financial and other constraints, and would like to hear from the commission about challenges it is being faced with.
Recently, the company that has been contracted to conduct the voter’s registration process, which is slated to commence on March 20, claimed that it is unable to pre-finance as required in the bid document.
A key requirement stated in the bid document for the almost US$12 million contract is that the company must demonstrate the ability to pre-finance the process.
The NEC as a result is now being forced to rely on the government to provide US$4.5 million to LAXTON to bring in the biometric materials for the process. Phase one of the voters registration exercise, which targets six counties, is expected to end on April 9.
According to the payment terms stated in the tender document, Section ITB 11.1(h) to be exact, states that 50% should be made available to the winner of the bid after the completion of the voter registration exercise; 25% after the exhibition, and 25% after the elections.
These requirements were the detailed payment terms as indicated by NEC in their tender.
But as LAXTON has claimed that it is unable to pre-finance the biometric voters registration exercise, the Chairperson of the NEC is hinting that the process might be further delayed if the government does not provide the funding.
“To date, we received 14 million in both US and Liberian dollars. There is a deficit of US$4.5 million. This is outstanding.” said Davidetta Brown Lansanah Lansanah said in a remark a few days before her appearance at the House of Representative last week. “The reason why it is critical is that, according to our contract, we have to provide a letter of credit to the bank for the Laxton Group.”
“Maybe I should not say it, this money, the balance money, If not received in a few days, the delivery of biometric equipment to the country will be stalled and if it is stalled it means that there is a potential to push forward the voter registration.”
These revelations have instilled some level of fear in members of the legislature, especially those seeking reelection.
And as half of the membership of the senate is heading for reelection and with a historically very poor retention rate at the upper house, many senators want to be very sure of the elections being held in time before embarking on their reelection campaign or spending sprees.
A troubled Senate Pro-Tempore, Albert Chie, recently expressed fear as Liberians go to the polls in October, many incumbent senators may not return as history has never been kind to them when seeking re-election in the postwar history of Liberia.
“Most of our seats are up for electoral contestations in the last quarter of this year. Despite years of hard work and constant visits to constituencies, history has unfortunately never been kind to Senators seeking re-elections,” he said. “We hope this class will be an exception and the return rate will be high. I urge all of us to work towards this goal.”
The Grand Kru County Senator is right to be troubled as he is conscious of the fact that there exists a jinx that hangs over the upper house, as only two each of 30 senators who sought re-elections in 2014, and 2022 returned.