NEC Getting Away with Murder?

Media reports that the National Election Commission has spent a total of US$182,320 to rent twenty pieces of a facial recognition and thermometer system for the conduct of by-elections in four counties has sent tongues wagging in staggering disbelief. This is because the amount involved (US$182,320), is far too much in excess of the actual cost. 

According to the story carried in the Tuesday November 16, 2021 edition of the Daily Observer, the technology costs not more than US$1,500 on Amazon.com. At this point it remains unclear whether the responsible NEC officials were aware of this fact.

Because the amount did not reach the US$200,000 threshold for submission to the Public Procurement Concessions Commission (PPCC), it was instead handled internally by the NEC, meaning the authorization for that transaction had to come from the Chairman of NEC Madame Davidetta Brown Lansanah or her designate. 

But the fact that NEC opted instead to rent for a single day use at such an exorbitant cost, rather than purchase the equipment outrightly, suggests that something indeed is/was amiss. 

And this is what prompted the Daily Observer to dig deeper for the facts including reasons why such a decision was made to spend US$183,320 to rent the equipment (20 units of facial recognition non-contact thermometers) for a single day’s use. 

Although accusing fingers have been pointed at NEC Commissioner Floyd Sayor, the Daily Observer has so far not discovered evidence linking Sayor to the company (Tuma Enterprises). 

But the question is why did the NEC fail to submit the purchase to a competitive bidding process but instead single-sourced the purchase to Tuma? 

It can be recalled that ahead of the December 8, 2020 Special Senatorial election, the PPCC Executive Director Roseline N. Kowo and the NEC Chairperson Davidetta Brown Lansanah had rough edges over adherence to procurement rules and regulations.

Since the figure of US$182,320 falls just short of the US$200,000 PPCC threshold, which does not require PPCC approval, informed sources say this was purposefully contrived to avoid PPCC scrutiny or any possible entanglement with PPCC Executive Director Roseline Kowo. 

More to this, insider sources at NEC have told the Daily Observer that about 150 units of similar thermometers were procured by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for use during the last senatorial elections. And those elections were held just about a year ago.

So the question is what happened to those pieces of equipment procured last year by UNDP for use in the senatorial elections? Have they since gone missing or have they since fallen into disuse? This is a matter to which Madame Brown Lansanah has to address herself.  

Whatever the case, this development has once again drawn into perspective the need for an overhaul of the electoral body well before the conduct of the 2023 elections. As we are all aware, elections in Liberia are a crucial determinant of political stability and peace.

Fraudulent elections or stolen elections results, as the experience of Liberia has amply demonstrated, can serve as a major conflict trigger. It was stolen election results in 1985 that led to the November 12, abortive Quiwonkpa invasion and the subsequent fallout which drove the country down a slippery slope that culminated in a bloody civil war lasting 14 years.

But despite the glaring need for an overhaul of the NEC, opposition political parties, it appears, have instead busied themselves with less important matters taking the ongoing wrangling within the ranks of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) over who represents that body in the 2023 elections as presidential candidate.

Meanwhile the clean-up of the Voters’ Registry mandated by the Supreme Court since 2017 has still not been done nor given appropriate attention.

Many in the public seem to share the view that former Vice President Joseph Boakai should have the loudest voice in this matter, speaking from the experience of someone, a presidential candidate, who went to court in 2017 to challenge the election results on claims of fraud.

Floyd Sayor, now Commissioner, served as NEC data officer and was at the center of charges of fraud and complicity during those elections in 2017 and even during the representative elections in District 17 in Logan Town, which was characterized by violence directed against opposition candidate Telia Urey.

As a leading figure in the opposition and now as Chairman of the CPP, Boakai should be leading the charge for a clean-up of the Voters Registry (Roll). But this appears to be far from his focus as he finds himself embroiled in a row with Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC). 

Both individuals have since maintained a conspicuous silence on such matters but yet find themselves locked in a battle over who heads the 2023 CPP presidential ticket.   As a reminder to all, such fruitless battles are leaving the NEC with a free hand to virtually get away with murder as can be discerned from this case involving the rental of facial recognition thermometers. 

While political parties are ultimately the principal stakeholders in electoral matters, it must not be forgotten that the Liberian people are indeed the subject, verb, and object of elections.