By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé
There seems to be a row developing between the Ministry of Finance and Development Plan (MFDP) and the National Elections Commission (NEC) regarding the possibility of holding senatorial elections in Bong and Montserrado counties.
The issue surrounds the cost of the process, which NEC budgeted at some US$ 4 million for the two counties. The MFDP will have to find a way to finance the elections, in a transparent and fair manner.
This includes providing everything the NEC needs that is in its capacity and mandate. The MFDP may be embarking on a slippery slope if it were to become party to any form of controversy regarding the electoral process.
The most MFDP can do is receive the budget, scrutinize it and work with the NEC to find a way to pay for it. The government can look at various strategies to make the elections happen, always keeping in mind that the country cannot afford to jeopardize the first by-elections it would be holding after the departure of UNMIL.
Money is the easiest thing to find in any election and government can and must be able to organize free and fair elections. The country is facing its first real challenge in building a democratic process.
During the 2017 elections, the international community, through UNMIL intervened but they will be gone in a week’s time and Liberia must learn to govern itself. Already, a few voices are calling on the government to start “talking to partners.”
When will Liberia pay for its own democracy? Is the current process built on donors’ generosity sustainable? Like many institutions created in recent years, NEC has largely benefited from support from the “international community.”
The country received what some now term as the ‘democratic dividend.” Starting from scratch, the past Administration was right in extending its hands out for donation for every project.
The generosity of donors in the past 12 years may have caused or enlarged a dependency syndrome in the country. NEC, like many of the new institutions created to support the democratic process could ask for anything and receive it.
Liberia was on a path to recovery and progress was visible. Donors gave so much that nobody could tell exactly how much was given. This situation of “giving” allowed institutions to set their budgets, always counting on the “international community” to fill in the gap.
This is where NEC falls in the trap of dependency. It has failed to adjust itself to the national economic realities and is aiming at another “donor funded” process. NEC has been built on donor money, even if the Liberian government contributed to its functioning.
The challenge is for the commission to move from that “donor funding” mentality and adjust itself to the realities of the day and to the development of the country.
Liberia just went through elections. The structures put in place for that process are still fresh and can be easily resuscitated to carry out the by-elections. The fault lines of the 2017 elections are still in everyone’s memory so NEC does not need much “education” of staff or voters.
One would assume that NEC also has ballot boxes from the past elections that could be used. Putting all that together, NEC could save some money. However, the greatest challenge NEC and Liberia face now is that of trust in their own system and society.
The ballots are printed somewhere, in the world, according to an international bid. This may seem like removing “doubts” and “conspiracy theories” but actually it epitomizes the issue of national trust.
It is very grave for the national psyche if the only way Liberians can trust the electoral process is when the ballots are printed in a foreign country. It is rather naïve because nobody really knows how many ballots are printed abroad.
NEC comes and say they have printed 2,000 000 ballots and everyone is happy because it was done in Ghana, Lebanon or somewhere in Europe. What if they printed more?
How would anyone know? There are very good high-tech printing presses in Liberia. It would be easy for the media, civil society and political parties to know exactly how many ballots were printed and even witness the process.
Beyond the issue of confidence in the national-self, there is the economic aspect of it. This is lot of money being thrown out and that could simplify the process and create jobs at home.
The MFDP cannot decide the fate of the elections and must avoid becoming an issue in the electoral process. NEC must learn and teach Liberians how to conduct elections.
Cllr. Charles W. Brumskine of Liberty Party once said that elections should be adapted to our way of life and our resources. Gambia former President Yahiya Jammeh conducted an election by using colored marbles… and he lost.
So, it’s not the costly technology that makes an election. NEC must learn to live within the national means.