By Josiah Flomo Joekai, Jr.
I have followed with keen interest the opinions expressed by your respective missions regarding the conduct of the October 10, 2017 Legislative and Presidential Elections maintaining that the process was conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner. Absolutely, the independent opinion of reputable missions such as yours is crucial in determining the credibility and integrity of any given election. While Liberians welcome this important contribution to the sustenance of our nascent democracy, let me also underscore that the fundamental criteria to guarantee the credibility of an election is for the Electoral Management Body to conduct every aspect of the process consistent with the established legal framework. That is why your respective countries and missions have never wavered in any uncertain terms the importance of upholding the rule of law, which is essentially required.
I can vividly recall classic instances such as the US election in 2000 in which George W. Bush and Al Gore ended up in court for vote rigging and massive irregularities. In the Ghanaian election in 2012, Nana Akufo Addo and John Dramani Mahama ended up in court as well, and currently there is an ongoing legal process into election related fraud issues arising from the 2016 election that brought Trump to power. This in my candid opinion reflects the respect for the rule of law and has eventually delivered to Americans and Ghanaians the deserving verdicts that have consolidated democracy in their respective countries.
Contrary to a call to unconditionally uphold this principle in keeping with our legal framework, recent statements from your missions declaring the October polls free, fair and transparent have already prejudiced the ongoing legal process. In particular, your call for a runoff election ahead of the conclusion of the matter which is before the National Elections Commission has rendered the process needless. Judging from public opinion, many Liberians are now beginning to lose faith in the legal process, which has serious implications for the future of our embryonic democracy.
However, consistent with your call for the National Elections Commission to address the numerous problems that beset the October polls before any runoff election, I would like to propose the following as necessary preconditions:
The National Elections Commission under the Chairmanship of Jerome G. Korkoya lacks the integrity to independently manage the Presidential Runoff Election.
The Commission under his leadership has not demonstrated any semblance of capacity and credibility to impartially conduct the Presidential Runoff Election. The Board of Commissioners has no coherence, as many policy decisions are made unilaterally by Chairman Korkoya as opposed to the collective power the Commission has. The lack of effective leadership at the NEC speaks to the gross inefficiencies which accounts for the messy conduct and mismanagement of the October 10, 2017 elections. You do not need a rocket scientist to know the magnitude of irregularities and possible fraud that attended the elections.
The disorderly conduct of the 2017 voter registration exercise which culminated in a roll that lacks integrity, contributed to the reported gross irregularities and fraud which overwhelmed the October 10, 2017 polls. The roll remains a potential source of electoral fraud; something which could eventually fester conflict. The failure of the current leadership to make appropriate use of the system established by its predecessor has proven counterproductive and the entire country is now confronted by the consequences therefrom.
The Voter Roll (Final Registration Roll) lacks the credibility to be used for the conduct of the impending Presidential Runoff Election.
It is now established that the current voter roll, which is the Final Registration Roll (FRR), has serious problems and therefore must not be used for the conduct of the ensuing Presidential Runoff Election. The FRR does not account for all registered voters evidenced by the omission of the particulars of several registered voters reported by the National Elections Commission (NEC) and other professional data analysts. The NEC itself has denied this fact. More so, Chairman Korkoya is on record for informing the Liberians Senate that there were 13000 omissions on the roll. Although this number represents a gross understatement of the fact, Liberians are yet to know whether or not the issue was addressed prior to the elections.
The roll has several duplicate names due to the registration of individuals multiple times by the NEC during the voter registration exercise which led to the circulation of several illegal voter registration cards. This created the floodgate for the illegal voting that took place on October 10, 2017.
The creation of a separate roll that can only be accessed through a Short Message System (SMS) managed and operated by the NEC alone was the basis for serious conflict during the October 10, 2017 elections. There were many voters whose particulars were confirmed using the SMS but omitted from the FRR as experienced on Election Day. This situation again contributed to illegal voting as some voters in this category were allowed to vote but with their names written on addenda. Others were simply denied because of the omission of their particulars. You can only imagine in rural areas where illiterate voters did not have access to the technology to verify their particulars; they were prevented from exercising their democratic franchise.
By all accounts, the 2.1 million registered voters as claimed by the NEC is unrealistic. This number does not in any way represent the actual number of registered voters in the country thereby rendering the voter roll impracticable.
Since the October 10, 2017 elections, no action has been taken by any measure to address this grave issue.
Recommendations for Timely Consideration
- Replace Chairman Jerome G. Korkoya with Commissioner Jonathan K. Weedor or Jeanette Ebba-Davidson who are the longest serving and most knowledgeable commissioners currently serving on the Board (i. e. the Commission). They are capable of presiding over the conduct of a runoff election that will be deemed credible.
- Replace the Executive Director, Lamin Lighe, with one of the many capable technicians who will impartially oversee the implementation of electoral activities. The orchestrations and manipulations at the Commission are the direct results of the bad leadership style of the Chairman and his Executive Director.
- ECOWAS should deploy counterparts at two levels at the NEC for the joint organization and conduct of the runoff election. Deploy at the NEC for the period of the runoff election, two former chairpersons of Electoral Commissions preferably from Africa (Afari Gyan of Ghana and Christiana Thorpe of Sierra Leone) to work directly with the current Board of Commissioners. This is an acceptable practice that has contributed to the conduct of credible elections in Africa. In 2011, through the support of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the former Chairman of the Ghanaian Electoral Commission, Afari Gyan, was a counterpart to Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission of Liberia.
- Deploy in the NEC Data Center David Colliee, who is a certified Data Software Developer and has diligently served in that capacity during our past two elections. Although he now has an international duty, but I have no doubt that his current employer will spare him few weeks to respond to a call to serve his country in these critical times of our democratic transition. In addition, External data developers, managers and analysts (Preferably from South Africa and Ghana) who have worked with our system before should be deployed in the NEC Data Center to oversee the data collection and analysis component of the runoff election.
- Do a thorough vetting of NEC poll workers with the aim of replacing those who lack the commitment, capacity and basic understanding of the roles and responsibilities of poll workers.
- Clean the voter roll in three weeks to have a credible roll for the runoff election. This process will require running a de-duplication program to rid the roll of all duplicate names. By this action, you will address the duplicate names that have inundated the roll thereby preventing people from voting more than once or multiple times. This same action was effected on the 2011 FRR and the Commission identified and recommended to the Ministry of Justice for removal from the roll and prosecution, 10,468 duplicate names. This is possible.
- Abolish the SMS service/program designed and operated by the NEC but include on the roll individuals who legitimately registered once but their particulars were omitted. Maintain and use only the FRR from this process for the conduct of the runoff election.
I have no doubt that when these measures are appropriately instituted, Liberians will have a Presidential Runoff Election that will be acclaimed nationally and internationally as free, fair and transparent.
Josiah Flomo Joekai, Jr., BA, MA
Former Special Assistant to the Chairman of NEC
Former Director of Civic and Voter Education of NEC
Candidate, Electoral District #3, Montserrado County
Mobile Phone Numbers 0776258265&0555258265
Email Address: [email protected]