Liberia: NEC Rents 20 Thermometers for US$182K

One of the thermometers in question is installed at the reception area of the NEC headquarters in Sinkor; and NEC Chairperson, Davidetta Brown Lansanah, declined to respond to questions by the Daily Observer.  

..."I am not accusing anyone, but too many things … go on through those amounts that are below US$200,000,” says PPCC Executive Director Roseline Kowo.

The National Election Commission has spent a total of US$182,320 to rent twenty pieces of a facial recognition system for the conduct of by-elections in four counties.

The intended use of the equipment is to detect the temperatures of voters during Nov. 16 by-elections in Nimba, Bong, Grand Gedeh, and Bomi Counties.

It is being rented from Tuma Enterprise and expected to perform non-contact automatic body temperature detection, brush human face, and perform high-precision infrared human temperature acquisition, and high effect.

The equipment being rented by NEC is widely used at entrances to public facilities to monitor access and attendance for safe and efficient access control of personnel.

Although the technology costs not more than US$1,500 on Amazon.com, NEC opted not to procure its own, but instead spent US$9,166 to rent a single facial recognition system from the Tuman Enterprise. That means NEC paid Tuma Enterprise a total of US$183,320 for 20 units of the equipment.  

Also, if the NEC had purchased the equipment, it would have saved a whopping US$153,320, while owning the equipment outrightly, instead of renting it. 

At NEC, sources there have revealed that, although the general intended purpose of the equipment remains good, its price tag is alarming, and could have been less if an open, competitive bidding process had taken place.

They accused NEC of secretly outsourcing the contract to Tuma Enterprise, a company with an alleged “link to Floyd Sayor”,  a commissioner at NEC, without a bidding process. 

A proforma invoice, dated September 9, 2021, shows a breakdown of costs for all the equipment and accompanying services for setup and installation, totalling 182,320 for 20 units of the equipment.

The proforma invoice details include “customizable COVID-19 preventive measures, contactless temperature check with accuracy within 0.5 degrees and facial detection indicating mask-wearing,” among others. 

One of the thermometers in question is installed at the entrance to the reception desk of the NEC headquarters on 9th Street. 

Meanwhile, the NEC, through its chairperson, Madam Davidetta Brown Lansanah, has persistently complained that the Commission has lacked adequate funding to prepare for elections. 

And when contacted, Arnold Badio, the CEO of Tuma Enterprises  denied claims that Floyd Sayor owned the company.

Badio added that he runs his business and it is duly registered “as a Liberian business with a legal standing to receive contracts from any party interested in doing business with my IT Company.”

While he declined to discuss the details of his transaction with the NEC, he did not deny the validity of the invoice after he was shown a copy.

Also, Floyd Sayor, a Commissioner at NEC, also declined to speak about the transaction involving NEC and Tuma Enterprises, but denied any connection to the IT Company.

“I am not here to speak to the details pertaining to the transaction on the modern facial recognition and temperature testing machines, but what I have to say is that I have no link in ownership to Tuma Enterprises,” Sayor said.

He explained, however, that being an IT expert and with his wealth of knowledge and experience as well as his long-standing service at the NEC, dating as far back as 2004, he has lots of connections with IT professionals and businesses in the country.

“I know the law. Under no condition, I will do it. I don’t have any interest in owning an IT Company now. Maybe in the future, when I am no longer at NEC, I may own one because I have to live by my education,” he said.

Sayor was head of the IT department at NEC when Jerome Kokoya was chairman of NEC and he spearheaded all data management activities all through 2017 and even before then.

During his stewardship of the NEC data center, he was accused by some political parties of manipulating the voters roll, which led to a Supreme Court ruling that it should be cleaned before the conduct of elections that year.

Also, NEC Procurement Director Joseph Kerkulah declined to comment as well, stating that “I am not the spokesperson of the commission and has been advised against making any official comment without authorization from the Board of Commissioners of NEC.”

Similarly, Prince Dunbar, NEC Deputy Director for Communications declined to comment and said that his boss would be best suited to answer concerns about the equipment rental deal.

In a follow-up call, Dunbar later disclosed that Madam Lansanah had agreed to speak on the issue, but only upon her return from Ganta City,  Nimba County during the week of November 8, 2021.

When contacted too,  NEC chair, Madam Lansanah did not respond to multiple texts and calls made to her. However, her communication team promised to revert to the Daily Observer with a response from their boss. 

A visit was made to the NEC office for a response but this reporter could not get a chance to speak with Commissioner Lansanah. 

At the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC), the entity Executive D Roseline Kowo, Executive Director disclosed that details about the rental agreement are yet to reach her desk.

Madam  Kowo noted that she had no idea about NEC’s transaction.

“Maybe they did a restricted bidding process. That process comes up when the cost of a transaction is less than US$200,000 but, again, we are working out ways to seek legal support to thwart that. I am not accusing anyone, but too many things [that are] not in the best interest of transparency and accountability go on through those amounts that are below US$200,000,” Madam Kowo said.

It can be recalled that the PPCC boss and the NEC boss were previously in a serious disagreement over adherence to procurement rules ahead of the December 8, 2020 Special Senatorial Election.

Madam Lansanah was accused of allegedly bypassing PPCC procedures when she went into deals for pre-packed materials, among others.

Lansanah, on the other hand, accused the PPCC boss (Kowo) of obstructing NEC’s workings by not granting a “No Objection” to procure the materials and services she wanted for the operations of the NEC.