NEC’s Unprecedented Action May Endanger Credible Elections

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What can be considered an “Unprecedented” decision has been effected by the National Elections Commission (NEC). It has required staff the Commission describes as “Nonessential” to remain out of NEC’s premises henceforth until otherwise. The action is unprecedented because there is no history of such an undertaking at the Commission ever in this post-war democratic dispensation and even throughout the pre-war years.

The NEC is an autonomous body clothed with the responsibility to conduct elections in the country. It must be principled and transparent in its action, be boldly independent and should at all times exercise or display cold neutrality in national politics. In this regard, staffers are expected to stay above the fray and resist the temptation to dabble in national politics. They are also expected to be independent, fair and transparent in their dealings.

NEC Executive Director, Lamin Lighe, justifying his action to order a mandatory leave of absence for those described as non-essential staff used the unfavorable economic situation as an excuse for the layoff. According to him, the current economic situation has deteriorated to the point where government is unable to make allotment for fuel and other essentials in order to run the Commission.

Mr. Lighe’s justification, however, is contradicted by his declared assurance that though the staffers shall remain home, they will still be on the Commission’s payroll and will continue to receive their salaries, which could very well turn out to be a mirage. The lack of money to purchase fuel or meet other logistical needs also raises a concern whether or not the “nonessential staffers” have been complaining of difficulties in getting to work as a result of the prevailing situation.

Most of the staff, in fact, contended that if NEC would ask them to stay home because of economic difficulties, then, there should be no need to receive salaries that are not justified by work. However, what remains very troubling about this decision, is that NEC could not and has not explained how it intends to conduct pending elections in the country in the absence of the staffers who have been asked to stay home until the harsh economic conditions improve.

There are currently two by-elections pending to be conducted in line with a constitutional timeline. Following the 2005 and 2011 elections that were heavily sponsored by international partners including the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES), the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the European Union (EU), the NEC under UNDP sponsorship held a capacity building workshop for staff.

This capacity building exercise strongly considered the preparation of human resources that will use their expertise to conduct future problem free elections. In the wake of this decision to send trained staff on a mandatory leave of absence, this newspaper wonders who replaces them in this critical period of election. Further, the ruling party has promised its many supporters—some of who are now protesting, jobs in various ministries and agencies.

In an effort to meet this goal, the party chairman, Mulbah Morlu, has been going from ministry to ministry, and agency to agency with lists of partisans for employment since the George Weah Administration took over eight months ago. Investigation has shown that some ministries and agencies have received lists of CDC partisans and have placed them first on the list of potential job applicants.

What assurance is there that these CDC partisans will not automatically replace those asked to stay home? We are concerned about such a decision based on a number of events witnessed over the eight-month period. There was a time when President Weah, without considering the Act that created the Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (LEITI), appointed defeated lawmaker Gabriel Nyenkan as Executive Director.

Nyekan virtually stormed its offices in tow with officers of the Liberia National Police to physically and bodily remove Konah Karmo from his office. Although there had been public outcry against the appointment of Charles Gibson to a public position because of his poor public record, the President also went ahead to appoint him as Chairman of the Board of Directors at the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) disregarding the public’s concern.

The decision by the NEC to lay off the staff does not only create a capacity gap at this crucial institution where the stability of the country lies, but also raises serious suspicion about the credibility of future elections in the country. Already we have a Chairman with questionable citizenship credentials who presided over fraudulent and irregular presidential and legislative elections last year.

According to observers, in terms of fraud and irregularities, the 2017 elections ranked third to the fraudulent 1985 and 1927 elections in our country presided over by an individual with questionable and divided loyalty to the state . While departmental heads are still assessing those who may be considered “nonessential staff,” we fervently hope that the NEC will reverse this decision to find an alternative means such as cutting down on waste and putting an end to runaway corruption at that integrity institution instead of aggravating a worsening situation that will undermine the credibility of future elections.

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