--- Says NEC's struggle with funding issues has the propensity to undermine the conduct of the October 10 elections.
The National Elections Commission's struggle to access its budgetary allocation for the October 10th elections could potentially undermine the election process, US Ambassador Michael McCarthy has warned.
McCarthy’s warning comes at a time when the electoral body is struggling with funding issues. Even prior to the Ambassador’s warning, many others, including leaders in the political opposition and civil society actors have raised concerns that this situation could negatively impact the commission's ability to conduct a fair and credible election.
The US diplomat, while sharing similar concern, bluntly warned that if the necessary funds requested by the Commission are not provided, the election would be undermined, saying it is important that the resources are needed to conduct a fair and credible election.
“If the necessary funds requested for are not provided to the NEC, it has the propensity to undermine the conduct of the October 10 elections,” McCarthy warned at a press conference yesterday. “The commission needs the necessary resources to effectively prepare for and implement all aspects of the electoral process.”
"So, this is a situation that should alarm every Liberian. Today, I am urging the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to immediately provide NEC with its full 2023 budget. I am encouraged by President Weah's statements, including at the UN General Assembly in front of the world, pledging a free and fair election. But it cannot be achieved unless the National Elections Commission is fully funded.”
McCarthy’s position comes as the Commission is nearing the end of the first phase of the biometric voter registration process, which has been marred by technical glitches, and the relocation of numerous voter registration centers.
Phase one of the exercise, which is taking place in Bomi, Margibi, Gbarpolu, Grand Cape Mount, and Montserrado counties, runs from March 20 to April 9.
The Commission, which needs well over US$30 million for the elections, started the voters' registration process complaining about funding issues publicise — which seems to have great impacts on its preparation for the conduct of the process.
According to the electoral body, some property owners are refusing to let their facilities be used for the registration exercise and so far have been fruitless with many people demanding compensation instead of the normal “appreciation package.”
The situation, the NEC said, has led to relocation to makeshift structures which are not void of constraints.
The NEC’s move to biometric registration comes as the Commission has been under pressure to dash its optical manual registration (OMR) system. The OMR system, for many, does not improve the accountability and transparency of electoral processes since the final voter roll is usually tainted by controversy and mistrust.
The biometric system apparently promises such accountability if properly used. It would help NEC for the first time secure the voter roll and the integrity of the elections process, fending off any issues of duplication, which has in the past been a major problem for elections in Liberia.
However, the NEC has not yet addressed whether the more than 20,000 polling stations in the country will be interconnected to share registration centers to cut off the possibility of double voting during elections.
Meanwhile, McCarthy, who has never been shy to speak out against corruption and the government’s lapses in carrying out the rule of law, has also advised the electoral body to move quickly to provide the promised meal and training allowances to the poll workers who are working long hours under difficult conditions.
The Ambassador’s advice comes as poll workers complain of not having time to eat or receive meals as promised by the Commission — something they say is affecting productivity.