Liberia: NEC Funding Conundrum Gets Regional Attention

WADEMOS Network Coordinator, Paul Osei Kuffour, flanked by his colleagues at the press conference in Monrovia

…. West Africa Elections Observation Group Calls on Gov’t to give the Commission the needed financial support

A regional elections observation group has called on the government to ensure that the National Elections Commission (NEC) is provided with the needed financial resources in order to carry out its statutory mandate.

The West Africa Democracy Solidarity Network (WADEMOS), a transnational civil society network, warned the government against stifling the activities of the NEC, as doing so would render the commission ineffective — a situation that could jeopardize the entire electoral process.

“The availability of funds remains a tremendous challenge to the functioning of the NEC and to the extent that the activities of the NEC are hindered by money,” Paul Osei Kuffour, WADEMOS Network Coordinator, said at a press conference in Monrovia on September 4 when he presented findings of the group’s pre-election observation mission in the country. “There is urgency for the government to release all outstanding funds owed to the NEC to enable smooth performance of its functions.”

Kuffour led a delegation that embarked on a pre-election solidarity mission to Liberia from August 28 through September 4, 2023, ahead of the forthcoming presidential and legislative elections scheduled for October 10, 2023.

Kuffour and his team, following a series of consultations with national stakeholders including the NEC, security, and civil society actors, fear that there would be adverse ramifications for the conduct of the elections if the commission becomes underfunded. 

“The deficit in funding for NEC and its ramifications for the successful conduct of elections, including the NEC’s capacity to embark on civic and voter education to adequately educate citizens in the lead up to the elections is particularly a cause for concern,” he said. “The NEC has a lot to do and it therefore needs adequate funding to properly execute its duties.”

The warning from WADEMOS comes just days after the NEC disclosed that there is insufficient funding for a possible run-off in the presidential election on October 10 — a shortfall that is due to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning providing US$3 million less than the amount required by the NEC.

During a recent appearance before the Senate on Tuesday, August 29, 2023, Madam Davidetta Brown-Lansannah, the chairperson of the NEC, noted that a run-off election could only be conducted if the Finance Ministry of Finance disburses the remaining funds. 

She stated, “Regarding the availability of funds for a potential run-off, I must say no, as we still require the remaining US$3.2 million to reach the US$53 million budget for the elections.”

She informed Senate members that, to date, the Ministry has remitted slightly over US$49 million of the US$53 million budget approved by the legislature.

The Standard Bearer of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), Alexander Cummings, also warned recently that underfunding of the NEC would put the country's democracy and security at risk.

He noted that President George Weah's administration's failure to finance the NEC adequately constitutes a flagrant breach of the Liberian Constitution.

“The issue of insufficient funding is the result of gross incompetence on the part of the Weah's administration, which then put the country’s peace and security at serious risk,” Cummings claimed in an interview with the VOA on, March 12.

“There is an urgent need to adequately fund the electoral process and hold the NEC accountable to conduct free, fair, and transparent elections that reflect the actual will of the Liberian people.”

However, during its mission here, WADEMOS said several indicators were assessed, including the readiness of the National Election Commission (NEC) and the preparedness of all stakeholders for the election. 

This is in relation to voter education, voter registration, election day deployment, vote tallying and transmission regulations, campaign finance regulations, political participation and inclusion, election security and violence, CSOs capacity and engagement in the electoral process, political parties engagement; hate speech and disinformation; and post-election petition resolution.

The Network, which held meetings with the major stakeholders for the 2023 elections, said the glaring gaps inherent in NEC’s communication on electoral matters is equally a matter of concern.

The group called on the NEC to enhance its communication strategy in its engagement with election stakeholders in order not just to communicate its achievements better but to improve stakeholders’ appreciation of the rules, and regulations governing the elections. 

“The NEC needs to educate voters not only on election rules and regulations ahead of the elections, but must also ensure that voters are aware that despite the biometric voter register, there will be no biometric verification on election day and that voting will be conducted just as it has been over past elections under the optical manual registration system,” Kuffour said. 

He said the NEC should endeavor to engage political parties more on sensitive and pertinent issues in order to mitigate perceptions of the impartiality of the NEC. “Together with political parties and the security agencies, the NEC must work to ensure the security of the people’s votes. 

All security and safety measures should be deployed on election day to ensure that polling precincts and the data center are transparent, accessible, and well-managed.”

Meanwhile, the polls on October 10, will mark the fourth consecutive general election in the country since the restoration of peace 20 years ago.

 It is the first election that will be managed single-handedly by Liberian security officials following the withdrawal of UN Peacekeepers. The election will also be the first ever election in Liberia to be conducted with a biometric voters’ register, despite the fact that voting will still be conducted manually as it was done under the old optical manual registration (OMR) system.

A total of 20 candidates, including 2 independent candidates, will be contesting for the presidency, while 31 political parties and coalitions as well as 195 independent candidates will contest for seats in the Senate and House of Representatives.

 In all, there are a total of 2,471,617 registered voters, 1,030 candidates, 2,080 electoral precincts, and 5,890 polling places.