Liberia: NEC Relocates VRCs, Fires Undisciplined Staff



Barely a week after the commencement of the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR), the National Elections Commission (NEC) revealed that it is facing a series of technical glitches, one of which is the relocation of numerous Voter Registration Centers (VRCs).

The commission said at a press conference over the weekend that it is facing challenges with some disgruntled property owners who have refused for their facilities to be used, this time, for the registration exercise.

The NEC said its staff assigned to the disputed centers were barred from using the properties, and talks with owners were fruitless.

Those VRCs were therefore relocated to makeshift structures where workers of the commission are experiencing a series of constraints, NEC Chairperson, Davidetta Browne Lansanah, told reporters.

She, however, declined to name the centers affected on grounds that the commission is still in negotiation with the property owners — hoping that a mutual understanding could be reached.

“The Commission is still grappling with the refusal of some facility owners to grant our BVR staff access to their facilities. In some areas where the NEC initially set up, ultimatums were issued by owners to vacate the premises within days following the start of the BR process,” Browne-Lansanah said. “This has led the NEC to improvise by constructing makeshift structures nearby where voter registration continues.”

It is no secret that the NEC does not own or build centers across the country when there are elections, and so the commission negotiates with property owners, mainly those that are private for use. However, this seems not to be the case anymore as owners are reportedly demanding payments instead of a token of appreciation that has been the tradition in the past.

“Some think that there is so much money and they should be given some but it is not like that. We can only afford tokens of appreciation. We do not guarantee specific amounts because there is no official amount set aside to rent places or build any,” she said.

Since the kick-off of the BVR process, there have been and continue to be lots of challenges with regards to those on the field effectively using the BVR equipment, as well as having access to solar energy unless there is sunshine. Lansanah blamed the technical glitches at the beginning of the exercise, which delayed the commencement of registration at some voter registration centers, on the limited understanding of some of its temporary registration staff.

“They are facing challenges with how to set up, how to activate, and how to troubleshoot the new system,” Lansanah continued.

The introduction of new technology comes with limited knowledge and as such glitches do occur. 

“Such challenges are not peculiar to Liberia,” she said, adding that similar cases have been reported in other countries which, despite the initial glitches, ended up having a very successful registration drive.”

To address the technical challenges, the NEC chairperson said the Commission has deployed a mobile technical team to all the voter registration centers across the six counties in order to address each concern of technical challenges that may arise.

These counties, including Bomi, Margibi, Gbarpolu, Grand Cape Mount and Montserrado counties, are currently being served in Phase One of the BVR process expected to end on May 11 this year. Phase Two will cover far away counties including Grand Kru, River Cess, River Gee, Maryland, Sinoe and Nimba Counties. Others to form part of phase two are Bong and Nimba Counties.

Across the country, NEC has scheduled 1,065 voter registration centers to serve a voting population of nearly three million for the October 10 legislative and presidential Elections. Incidents of violence and alleged voter trucking were also confirmed by NEC Chairperson. She said that the commission does not take those violations lightly and that it is working with the Joint Security to address each of the two purported cases that have come up.

“Besides the technical and operational glitches, the NEC has received reports of incidents of violence related to ‘trucking of voters’ and crowd control. In this connection, the Commission appreciates the efforts on the part of the Joint Security that is responding to incidents.”

Lansanah reported that on the average, one hundred eligible voters are being registered at each of the centers in the six counties, hoping that a little over two million people might register in the phase one should the figure at the current rate or even exceed a little more.

Meanwhile, the NEC has disclosed that its Board of Commissioners has terminated the contract of Thomas Bryant, a temporary staff member who physically assaulted journalist Diamond Slanger of Spoon Communications Network.

“The Commission condemns in the strongest terms the attack on Journalist Diamond N. Slanger of the Spoon Communication Network, by an electoral supervisor known as Thomas Bryant,” Lansanah declared. “The Commission will not condone these acts of violence by electoral workers and has therefore terminated the services of Mr. Bryant with immediate effect,” she said.

It can be recalled that on March 21 Diamond Slanger was allegedly assaulted by Bryant, which led to activities at the center supervised by Bryant coming to a halt for a long while until there was a resolution.