Liberia: US$182K Corruption Scandal Hooks NEC Chair

LEC Chair Davidetta Browne-Lansanah

The Chairperson of the National Elections Commission has been hooked for corruption, conflict of interest, and money-laundering by the Liberia Anti- Corruption Commission.

The LACC’s findings against Davidetta Browne-Lansanah is a result of a month-long investigation into a Daily Observer report that the electoral body leased twenty facial recognition thermometers at the total cost of US$182,320 from a firm with family links to the NEC chair.

In the end, the LACC investigation found Mrs. Lansanah to be in violation of Section 1.3.6, of the National Code of Conduct, which speaks against conflict of interest; Part II, Section 2.2 of the LACC Act and section 15.3 of the Money laundering Act of 2012.

According to the LACC, the electoral body chair is being charged for not disclosing her vested interest in Tuma Enterprise Inc., which was awarded the US$182K contract for a facial recognition system while presiding over the procurement Committee.

“Knowing full well her vested interest (relationship) in the Tuma Enterprise Inc, and having failed to make full disclosure to her fellow Commissioners or to the Procurement Committee, is liable of the following counts: Section 1.3.6 (Conflict of Interest) of the National Code of Conduct for all public officials and employees of the government; and Part II, Section 2.2 of the Act establishing the LACC that describes insider trading as an act of corruption,” said  Cllr. Edward Martin, Executive Chairperson of the LACC.  “And violation of section 15.3 for money laundering under section 15.2 of the Money laundering Act of 2012 which provides insider trading and market manipulations.”

Tuma Enterprise is a technology company established in Liberia in 2020 and has since won lucrative contracts from the government, including the building of a mobile app to keep track of travelers in and out of Liberia with regard to their COVID-19 status.

The historic finding of the LACC investigation comes after NEC Executive Director Anthony Sengbe told the public that his boss did not influence the bidding process.

Sengbe provided documents to the Daily Observer, which suggests that the NEC held a restricted bid process, having invited three Liberian-owned technology firms, including Tuma Enterprises, for the provision of an electronic verification system (i.e., facial recognition thermometers).

But NEC claimed that only “Tuma Enterprises was the most responsive in the bidding process,” hence their final selection and approval by a panel of procurement officials.

The leased equipment costs not more than US$1,500 on; but NEC opted not to procure its own, spending US$9,166 to rent a single facial recognition system from Tuma Enterprises, paying a total of US$183,320 for 20 units of the equipment.  If the NEC had purchased the equipment, it would have saved a whopping US$153,320, while owning the equipment out rightly, instead of leasing it. 

The systems were leased to detect the temperatures of trainee poll workers ahead of the November 16 by-elections in Nimba, Bong, Grand Gedeh, and Bomi Counties as well as to monitor access and attendance for safe and efficient access control of personnel.

Meanwhile, Cllr. Martin has disclosed that during the investigations, Madame Lansana admitted and confirmed that David Brown, Vice President for Operations of Tuma Enterprises was “her brother from the same father, while Arnold Badio, owner and incorporator of Tuma Enterprise is a brother to David Browne from the same Mother.”

“The National Elections Commission also awarded a certificate of completion to Tuma Enterprises on October 24, and paid a full amount of US$182,320 while the stipulated date for the contract to end was November 20,” the LACC boss disclosed.

NEC Chairperson Davidetta Browne Lansanah (center), is the sister of David T. Browne (left) and Arnold H. Badio (right), Vice President for Operations and President/CEO of Tuma Enterprises, respectively.

Elsewhere, the LACC has said that it has concluded an investigation into the Buchanan Port and Water and Sewer Corporation corruption sagas, with an indictment being drawn out.

However, the LACC has cleared Bishop John Allan Klayee of the Jubilee Church and George Yuoh of corruption allegations of payroll paddling and financial impropriety at the Liberia Airport Authority.  Bishop Klayee is the former Managing Director of the airport, while Yuoh works as chief financial officer.

“The investigation finds that the leadership at the Liberia Airport Authority did not take cognizance of the HR policy and financial standing of the institution when considering the recruitment of employees at the LAA. The LACC in the course of the investigations saw no criminal liability on the part of Bishop John Allen Klayee and George Yuoh in the discharge of their duties,” Cllr. Martin added.

At the National Transit Authority (NTA), the LACC disclosed that the investigation in allegations of corruption and financial improprieties involving the entity’s officials found that the partnership agreement with Numherit-Liberia LTB has been entirely pre-financed by the company and the NTA has made no payment to the company in question.

“The LACC also noted that the scrapping of the company’s buses was not done in agreement with the General Services Agency though an amount of US$4,000 generated from the scrapping had been placed into legitimate accounts at the United Bank for Africa (UBA),” he said. “The LACC recommends that the partnership between the NTA and Numherit-Liberia be reviewed to ensure consistency with Public Procurement and Concession Commission Regulations and that should ensure future scrapping be fully authorized by the General Services Agency (GSA).”