Liberia: LACC’s Report on NEC “False and Misleading”

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.

…NEC Chair Browne-Lansanah says she never admitted guilt during an appearance before the LACC, as claimed by the anti-graft institution

The National Elections Commission has hit back at claims of corruption, conflict of interest, and money laundering involving its Chairperson, Davidetta Browne-Lansanah, as alleged by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission.

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

“Following its investigation, the LACC told the public that it has completed its investigation and read out an outcome claiming we had made certain admissions of guilt during our appearance before the LACC,” Mrs. Lansanah said in her response to the LACC report.  “This is false and misleading. We appeared before the LACC with our legal counsels, submitted the requested documents, along with written statements. At no time during the interviews did any of us ever make any admission of guilt as falsely stated during the December 15 LACC press conference.”

Mrs. Lansanah added that, as they await LACC’s report to provide a detailed response, the NEC reminded the anti-graft institution that the Liberian Constitution instructs that, in an announcement to pursue an indictment, one “should not raise an inference of guilt as all accused persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt in a court of law.”

The LACC report, which the NEC is responding to, found its chairperson, Davidetta Browne-Lansanah to be in violation of 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 while awarding a contract for the lease of 20 facial recognition thermometers at the total cost of US$182,320.

According to the LACC, the NEC chair is being charged for not disclosing her vested interest in Tuma Enterprise Inc., while presiding over the procurement committee.

“Knowing full well her vested interest (relationship) in the Tuma Enterprise and having failed to make full disclosure to her fellow Commissioners or to the Procurement Committee, is liable of the following counts: Section 1.3.6 (Conflict of Interest) of the National Code of Conduct for all public officials and employees of the government; and Part II, Section 2.2 of the Act establishing the LACC that describes insider trading as an act of corruption,” said  Cllr. Edward Martin, Executive Chairperson of the LACC.  “And violation of section 15.3 for money laundering under section 15.2 of the Money laundering Act of 2012 which provides insider trading and market manipulations.”

Cllr. Martin then disclosed that during the investigations, Mrs. Lansanah admitted and confirmed that David Brown, Vice President for Operations of Tuma Enterprises was “her brother from the same father, while Arnold Badio, owner and incorporator of the company, is a brother to David Browne from the same Mother.”

Tuma Enterprise is a technology company established in Liberia in 2020 and has since won lucrative contracts from the government, including the building of a mobile app to keep track of travelers in and out of Liberia with regard to their COVID-19 status.

But the NEC has disclosed that it is yet to receive the LACC investigative report, as such they cannot provide a response to allegations they have not seen. The electoral body, however, noted that because of the gravity of the issue, they have decided to offer a genuine response to the LACC’s investigation regarding the procurement of goods and services from Tuma Enterprises.

“We are saying ‘genuine response’ because as of the time of the statement to you, the LACC has not served us its report. Therefore we cannot provide a response to allegations we have not seen,” Mrs. Lansanah said. “On November 19, 2021, the LACC served us letters of invitation to appear for investigation. Before the ink dry on its letter served us, the LACC had shared the same with the media and the LACC boss appeared on VOA, an international broadcast institution, and said the LACC has placed us under criminal investigation.”

The NEC boss added that out of respect for the LACC and advice from their lawyer, they then remained silent, even in the face of weekly prejudicial leaks by the LACC to certain local dailies claiming it has found wrongdoing “with us receiving political pressure concerning the investigation.”

“Never before have such calculative and coordinated leaks been seen in LACC’s investigative history.  “Please rest assured that we remain a critical role in our system of government to conduct free, fair, and credible elections,” NEC added.  “We believe that an agency with investigative and/or prosecutorial powers is obligated not to make, condone or cause to make public the agency it knows or should know, has the likelihood of prejudicing criminal matter or heightening public condemnation of a target of an investigation.” 

The LACC’s investigation against Mrs. Lansanah was a result of a month-long investigation into a Daily Observer report that the electoral body leased 20 facial recognition thermometers at the total cost of US$182,320 from a firm with family links to the NEC chair.

But NEC claimed that it held a restricted bid process, having invited three Liberian-owned technology firms, including Tuma Enterprises, for the provision of an electronic verification system (i.e., facial recognition thermometers). NEC added that only “Tuma Enterprises was the most responsive in the bidding process,” hence their final selection and approval by a panel of procurement officials. 

The leased equipment costs not more than US$1,500 on Amazon.com; but NEC opted not to procure its own, spending US$9,166 to rent a single facial recognition system from Tuma Enterprises, paying a total of US$183,320 for 20 units of the equipment.  If the NEC had purchased the equipment, it would have saved a whopping US$153,320, while owning the equipment out rightly, instead of leasing it.

The systems were leased to detect the temperatures of trainee poll workers ahead of the November 16 by-elections in Nimba, Bong, Grand Gedeh, and Bomi Counties as well as to monitor access and attendance for safe and efficient access control of personnel.