The executive director of the National Elections Commission (NEC), Lamin Lighe, has called on non-essential staff of the commission to remain home until the country’s current economic situation improves.
Mr. Lighe made the statement recently during a general staff meeting held at the commission.
He said that the current economic situation was so bad that government was unable to make allotment for fuel and other essentials in order to run the commission.
As such, Lighe said, the commission cannot afford money to repair the staff bus that has for the past four months gone unused, and even procure fuel for it to commute on a daily basis.
He therefore called on sectional heads to identify “non-essential staff” and send them home until the economic situation improves.
Mr. Lighe said the economic situation was not hurting the commission alone, but other ministries and agencies that have been out of electricity for the past few days as of yesterday, September 9.
Following his statement, there was a barrage of reaction from the staff in the meeting. Some of them were baffled when they learned that they will be paid by government while sitting at home.
Another staffer wondered as to why being sent home as “non-essential personnel” still qualify them to be paid while sitting at home?
“Mr. Lighe’s policy statement is unprecedented, because never before has the commission called on its staff to stay home and be paid while sitting home,” another staff said.
Mr. Lighe’s statement comes at a time the NEC has received two notifications to conduct by-elections in Sinoe County and District#13, Montserrado County.
The NEC was notified by the House of Representative on August 23 of a vacancy in that august body due to the election of Representative Saah Hardy Joseph to the senate.
Similarly, the senate informed the commission of a vacancy owing to the nomination, appointment and confirmation of Senator Joseph Nagbe to the Supreme Court as Associate Justice replacing Cllr. Philip Z. Banks, who recently retired from the bench.
Observers see the NEC statement as an affront to the very government it serves and an attempt to make it appear ugly in the eyes of the Liberian people, because during the just ended senatorial by-elections in Montserrado and Bong counties the government disbursed more than US$2.5 million to the NEC, which they believe was far more than what was required to conduct those by-elections.
“To begin to send home staffers because of ‘economic constraints’ barely a month after those elections is cause for worry as to how monies are being expended under the current NEC administration,” one lawyer told the Daily Observer.
Legal scholars revealed that Mr. Lighe has no authority to preside as an executive director of the commission, let alone make such policy statements on behalf of the NEC.
Mr. Lighe was appointed by former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as a non-tenure official of the commission. But while serving his appointment, the Elections Law on the appointment of the executive director was changed, in order to give the appointing powers to the Board of Commissions instead of the President, one lawyer hinted to this newspaper.
According to our legal source, Section 2.19 of the New Elections Law as amended in 2014 is clear and “unambiguous.”
As such, Mr. Lighe, like all other non-tenured appointees of the commission, should have stepped down once President George Weah took the oath of office on January 22, 2018.
A research conducted shows that the commission, during the eight months of the government, has not announced the recruitment of an executive director in keeping with its own laws.