Liberia: NEC “Has Become a One-Woman Show”

Chairperson of the National Elections Commission Davidetta Browne Lansanah.

... “We are shocked. This is becoming seriously embarrassing. Some of us don’t know why only this EKEMP, even when the company flopped the other day in their re-demonstration process. The public must know that the decision is Lansanah’s [personal] decision.”

The Chairperson of the National Elections Commission (NEC) has been accused of unilaterally reselecting EKEMP as the preferred vendor to provide the biometric system for the 2023 voter registration exercise.

The accusation comes as some of her fellow commissioners, who spoke to the Daily Observer on condition of anonymity, claimed that their colleague is proceeding with the decision without their consent.

“We were not a part of any consultation that led to the decision that this same EKEMP should again be considered for the contract and forwarded to PPCC for a No Objection request,” the Commissioners said.  “We are disrespected and we have been silent for so long. We are fed up and now is the time for the public to know that the Commission has become a one-woman show.”

According to the Commissioners,  the chairperson's decision to give out contracts without the knowledge of the NEC Board of Commissioners is a cause for concern.

The New Election Law by which the Commission operates is disrespected in many ways, almost all of the time, by the NEC Chairperson, who is only designated as a spokesperson, they said.

“We are shocked. This is becoming seriously embarrassing. Some of us don’t know why only this EKEMP, even when the company flopped the other day in their re-demonstration process. The public must know that the decision is Lansanah’s [personal] decision.”

Section 2.10 of “The New Election Law” grants the NEC chairperson the authority to “be the official spokesperson; preside over all meetings of election contests and controls, supervise and direct the administrative operation of the office of the Commission and, in consultation with the Commissioners, take such corrective administrative measures for the smooth and effective operation of the Commission.”

But, according to the commissioners, consultations to arrive at major decisions such as awarding contracts are usually “done by Lansanah and her preferred confidantes.”

The joint venture comprising EKEMP, INITS, and Palm Insurance, was among five other companies, including HID Global and PSI, Laxton and its local partner as well as Network Solutions and Waymark & Mwetana, all of who participated in the first demonstration process. EKEMP was preferred by Lansanah’s NEC and submitted to PPCC for a “No Objection” approval.

However, the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC), after thoroughly reviewing NEC’s submission, disagreed with the selection on grounds that still photos were not enough evidence to award a major contract such as the biometric voter registration process to a company.

A call for a video-recorded re-evaluation was issued by PPCC and NEC accepted to do so, more so after the Senate had also reviewed the findings and listened to both PPCC and NEC. Even in the first presentation, EKEMP, according to sources at NEC, failed during its presentation,

In the video-recorded re-demonstration process that recently came to an end, EKEMP again allegedly failed to print in the allotted time a sample biometric voter ID card with all the required security features. They eventually printed, but only after the time had elapsed and the observers had left.

EKEMP wrote the procurement evaluation committee, complaining that they were not fairly treated as done to other companies, more so that the other companies were not asked to do any PowerPoint presentation, as it was in EKEMP’s case. NEC did not look into the case when EKEMP went to the Supreme Court and filed a Writ of Prohibition on the entire procurement process.

The Daily Observer however learned that said that the Court threw the case out and asked EKEMP to return to NEC and exhaust the available remedies the Commission has.

The Daily Observer, seeking an understanding of the New Election Law, reached out to Cllr. Frances Johnson Allison, former Chairperson of NEC. According to her, if the information from the Commissioners is true that they are not involved in the determination of which vendor gets a given contract, it means that Lansanah is “completely acting against the law.”

“As chair, she is only the spokesperson for the Commission but not the boss. The Commission has structures and departments and the head for all of them is the Board of Commissioners; not Chairperson. The law is clear and it even talks about consultation. It says the Chair must consult with fellow Commissioners,”  Allison said.

 Allison has worn many hats in public service, including that of Minister of Commerce and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia.

“I have not read anything from the New Elections Law that gives that enormous power to the chairperson of NEC to just do anything he or she likes. When I was there, I always made sure the rest of the Commissioners had a say in the policy decisions of the Commission.”

 “Whatever went out to the public was the decision of the entire board. Of course, it is possible that we can not agree at times on certain things but this is why we have the democratic process. We vote and the majority decides for the institution,” the former Chief Justice said.

Allison added that Lansanah should have a listening ear and respect the democratic process by allowing her colleagues to have a say in decisions that would impact the Commission and the country in general, saying the “Commission must show that it can be trusted with the job.”

“When a procurement panel evaluates, the report should be submitted to the board and the board looks carefully to see if the rules in the bid document were properly followed,” the former Chairperson of NEC said.  “From that stage, a decision can be reached by the board before PPCC is involved. It is not a one-person show.”

Why are you calling me?

 Lansanah, when contacted for a response said,  “The person who gave you the information, let them corroborate it. Why are you calling me? The person who gave you the information, go back to them, my friend.”

“If it is something I wanted to tell you, I would have called the press. The person who gave you the information, go back to them and let them corroborate it, please,” Lansanah added. “The person who is on the board that gave you that information, please go back to them and corroborate the information; nothing else I have to say, thank you.”

Senate’s Concerns  

In a recent interview with Sen. Dr. Henrique Tokpah, chairman of the Committee on Elections and Autonomous Agencies, conveyed the Senate’s concerns about the right things being done and that time is now a key factor that must not be overlooked.

“The process needs to be concluded soon so elections can be held in accordance with the dates as provided for in the Constitution,” he said, noting that it is about national duty and it should be above any individual interest. We want the elections to be held on time. If they have any problem that we can mitigate, let them tell us so we can let go of the rigmarole,” he said.