Liberia: Just Do the Right Thing Madame NEC Chairperson — Resign!

The electoral body, in a response, categorically denied a LACC investigative report that the NEC Chairperson Davidetta Browne-Lansanah admitted giving a US$180K contract to a firm connected to her family.

As reported in the Thursday, December 16, 2021 edition of the Daily Observer, the Investigative Report of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) issued on Wednesday, December 15, 2021, charged the Chairperson of the National Elections Commission, Madame Davidetta Browne-Lansanah, for violating “Section 1.3.6, of the National Code of Conduct, which speaks against conflict of interest; Part II, Section 2.2 of the LACC Act and section 15.3 of the Money laundering Act of 2012”.

But in a surprise twist, Madame Browne-Lansanah has come back fighting, insisting that she has been falsely accused by the LACC although she has not been tried in a court of competent jurisdiction and proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. Given current outlook, this situation appears set for a long haul given Madame Browne-Lansanah’s strident denials of impropriety.

The Daily Observer recalls that it had earlier queried Madame Browne-Lansanah on her relationship to David Brown, Vice President for Operations of Tuma Enterprises which won the bid to supply on rent 20 pcs of facial recognition thermometers at a whopping cost of US$182,320.

But rather than addressing herself to the question, she referred our reporter to Executive Director, Mr. Anthony Sengbe, who instead chose to provide elaborate explanations on the technical capacity of the equipment.

But the question at bar was not about the technical capacity of the equipment but the relationship between Madame Browne-Lansanah and David Browne, both of whom the Daily Observer has established share the same father while Arnold Badio, Chief Executive of Tuma Enterprises, and David Brown share the same mother.

And the Daily Observer insists that the matter is not about the Chairperson of the NEC rather, it is about the integrity of the NEC as a key national integrity institution critical to maintaining peace and stability through the conduct of free, fair and transparent elections on a level playing field.

This means that those individuals charged with the responsibility to manage the electoral body must conduct themselves in ways far above reproach. The fact that Madame Browne-Lansanah elected to preside over a procurement process involving a company in which her brother serves as vice president for operations is a red flag.

More to that, the fact that said company emerged as winner of an allegedly questionable bid process is another red flag. Further, the procurement or rental of 20 pieces of equipment to monitor the attendance of polling staff around the country during training workshops, is questionable.

This is because the expense which was allocated precisely to monitor the attendance of polling staff at training sessions around the country is a question to which answers have not been forthcoming.

And no amount of legal justification/technicalities can remove the suspicious air of impropriety that attended the bid awarding process in which Tuma Enterprises emerged winner.

But as earlier observed, the issue is about the critical role that the NEC plays in maintaining peace and national stability. We recall that stolen elections results in the 1985 elections precipitated an armed invasion shortly thereafter and whose subsequent fallout effects were major contributing factors that led the country to civil war.

More to that, the plethora of complaints which have arisen from legislative elections and surfaced in the Supreme Court since 2014, some of which lingered for so long in that Court and some of which are yet unresolved. 

If the NEC leadership could not demonstrate fairness, honesty and transparency in the awarding of contracts in keeping with laws extant, can it be trusted to preside over the 2023 elections? The answer is a big NO, according to a number of civil society activists.

As a matter of fact only recently, the Liberian People's Party (LPP), on December 17, 2021, issued a press release calling on all political parties and civil society organizations to call for the prosecution of Madame Browne-Lansanah.

“… LPP further demands the prosecution of Madam Browne-Lansanah for violation of sections of the three Acts referenced above and Tuma Enterprise Inc., for overpricing, resulting to a loss of one hundred eighty-two thousand United States Dollars (US$182,000) of taxpayers’ money, which is a blatant extortion of the Liberian people…”

Concluding, the LPP called on all political parties and civil society organizations to demand the immediate removal of Madame Browne-Lansanah from the helm of that institution.    

“… LPP calls upon all political parties and civil society organizations to join in demanding the immediate removal of Madam Davidetta Browne-Lansanah as Chairperson of the NEC as a way of sanitizing the electoral body to ensure a level playing field as we move towards the 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections”. 

Against this backdrop, it is the considered opinion of the Daily Observer that Madame Browne-Lansanah ought to do the right thing and resign and avoid dragging into the mud the good name of her family and whatever is left of her reputation, which now virtually appears to be in tatters. 

For her own sake and that of the country, she should take cue from former NEC Chairperson James Fromayan, who did the right thing and resigned the post in the wake of accusations that he had cheated and robbed the CDC of victory in 2011 by reading the wrong results, although the CDC never demanded an investigation. 

But Mr. Fromayan denied the accusations, which he claimed were purposely contrived by an individual in his office and, according to him, he promptly resigned in order to save not only the image and credibility of the NEC but the peace and stability of the country, which was then hanging by a thread.  

In this case, there is clear and undisputed evidence that Madame Browne-Lansanah is the sister of Tuma’s Vice President for Operations, David Browne, and she was fully aware of this fact when she presided over the procurement process that awarded the contract to her brother’s company.