Dear Mr. Editor:
I present compliments on behalf of the National Elections Commission (NEC), and herein wish to thank you for your agreement to meet with us on June 30th 2014, to discuss the Daily Observer’s editorial of June 03, 2014 captioned, “Is NEC Truly Ready for the October Elections?” Let me also register my profound thanks and appreciation for the warm reception accorded my delegation and the frank exchange that characterized our cooperation between your institution and the NEC, as we all strive to foster democratic governance in Liberia.
As I stated during the meeting, the Commission was taken aback by the allegations contained in the editorial. Among other things, the editorial alleged that NEC did not make adequate preparations, including an extensive civic voter education for the recent Voter Roll Update (VRU); the mobile registration method used for the VRU exercise was inappropriate; the Commission did not raise a budget; and the Commission might have acted in collaboration with a certain Islamic group deliberately deny thousands of youth of their right to register and take part in the electoral process.
Mr. Managing Director, by this communication, the NEC seeks to clarify the issues raised in the editorial mentioned above and would therefore appreciate were you to use your editorial judgment to help in dispelling the misconception that the editorial under reference created amongst the public, here and abroad.
Before proceeding further, please permit me to underscore that all Liberians, including your good-self (an eminent citizen of this country), have a responsibility to protect and preserve the image of the NEC as the institution that confers legitimacy on elected leaders of our country. Unfortunately, I like to state that the June 3, 2014 Editorial of the Daily Observer Newspaper did not only unfairly ignore this social responsibility but it deliberately failed to give any credit to the Commission for the laudable effort (NEC has already received commendation from ECOWAS and the American Embassy near Monrovia for a successful VRU) been made by the Commission in preparation for the conduct of the 2014 Special Senatorial Election.
Now the allegations:
1. Did NEC organize properly and advertise adequately the VRU exercise?
The editorial accused the NEC of failing to properly organize the just-ended VRU and that in the exercise of the “penny wise and pound foolish philosophy”, the Commission did not advertise the voter registration process; hence very few people knew about it. For the records, the Commission wishes to state that it employed all available means to publicize the VRU through the length and breadth of this country. For instance, prior to the commencement of the VRU exercise, the Commission signed a memorandum of understanding with forty (40) community radio stations in the 15 counties and another MoU with eleven (11) national radio stations in Monrovia to air announcements, play jingles and dramas, as well as host talk shows on the VRU process. The MoUs between the NEC and the community radio stations required the latter to air VRU messages in local languages (vernaculars) for ease of understanding and to enhance informed participation of the population in rural communities.
Additionally, the Commission with support from its international partners, the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) contracted the services of two-hundred and sixty two (262) Community-based Organizations (CBOs) plus two-hundred and nineteen (219) Civic Educators to disseminate messages on the VRU process from door-to-door. Further, the Commission printed and distributed more than 150,000 flyers, posters, stickers and banners highlighting VRU messages. Further still, the NEC contracted the Flash Point Newspaper for the publication of the various centers and the movement schedules of the VRU Teams.
Further still, NEC contracted the services of several local artists and the Liberian Musician Union to produce, at least three (3) VRU songs; several dramas & jingles, all of which were regularly aired on various radio stations in and out of Monrovia. Moreover, there were countless radio and television interviews conducted to promote the VRU exercise; live appearances and phone-in programs on community as well as national radio stations featuring election magistrates, authorities from the Civic/Voter Education and Communication Section of NEC, plus the airing of Public Service Announcements (PSAs) and Press Releases, Newspapers, including the Daily Observer carried VRU stories. It is clear Mr. Managing Director, that these efforts, taking together, cannot be fairly described as inadequate preparation.
2. Did NEC craft a budget for the 2014 Special Senatorial Election?
This question has to be answered in the affirmative. Accountability is one of the key guiding principles of every election management body; the NEC is no exception. Therefore, the NEC could not have expected to conduct the 2014 Special Senatorial Election successfully without submitting a budget to national government.
It is public knowledge that in the lead up to the commencement of activities for the conduct of the Special Senatorial Election, the NEC submitted a budget of US$15.3 million to the Liberian Government for the entire electoral process. When the amount requested was not forthcoming in line with the Commission’s program delivery plan, we initiated series of consultations with key stakeholders, including political parties, civil society organizations, religious leaders, the media, the National Legislature and international partners of the Commission. The aim of those consultations was to call attention to the time sensitive nature of the Commission’s work and to ask those stakeholders to help the Commission to prevail on national government to make available the resources that were needed to conduct the Special Senatorial Election on time.
As a partial result of those engagements, the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) of the United Nations in Liberia, in her report to the UN General Assembly sometime this year, informed that august body of the insufficiency of funding to the NEC and called on the Liberian Government to do more to support the NEC for the conduct of the Senatorial Election. Not only that, the Liberian Senate in one of its sittings passed a bill and requested the
Executive Branch of Government to borrow a little over ten million United States Dollars for the 2014 Special Senatorial Election. The bill is currently before the House of Representative for concurrence. All of these interventions could not have been made without the Commission submitting a budget for the conduct of the Special Election and calling attention of stakeholders to its needs.
3.Whether the use of mobile teams for the conduct of the VRU was inappropriate as implied by the editorial?
What the Daily Observer did not take into consideration in referring to the use of mobile teams to conduct the VRU exercise that while there are acceptable principles that guide the conduct of elections around the world, there is no one best way that all activities in every electoral process must conform to. In fact, countries are encouraged to adopt methods that best suit their situations once those methods are within international legal framework and consistent with best practices. For instance, Gambia is the only country in West Africa that uses marbles as ballots. Can it be said that elections conducted in Gambia are not democratic because they use marbles instead of papers as ballots? Obviously no. Among others, once the secrecy and right of voters are not compromised, that system is acceptable under international best practice.
Another thing the Commission did that the Daily Observer editorial did not mention was that though the teams moved from one precinct to the another, all of the existing 1,780 precincts in Liberia were fully covered. No eligible Liberia citizen who was desirous of being registered was deprived. In addition to the teams covering all 1,780 precincts, NEC Civic educators went ahead of the teams to announce their arrival in the various communities.
Another point that is worthy is that the time allotted for the VRU exercise was longer than previous voter registration exercises. For instance, in 2005, the voter registration exercise lasted for 24 days (April 25 to May 21, 2005) excluding holidays and Sundays. In 2011, the exercise ran for a little longer time than 2005. In 2014, the Commission improved on the number of days for the Voter Roll Update to forty five (45) days, Not only did the NEC print and distribute posters in all communities highlighting the movement schedules of the VRU Teams, but civic educators were also deployed to announce arrival of the teams. Though the teams were not static at a given registration center for the entire duration of the exercise as was done in 2005, yet, everything else that was done in 2005 was employed for the VRU and in some instances improved upon.
4. Is NEC in a conspiracy with an Islamic power (Saudi Arabia) to disenfranchise Liberian Youths as alleged by the editorial?
The answer is NO. This allegation of the editorial is the most disturbing and shocking. For the Daily Observer to insinuate that because a certain group plans to Islamize Liberia, the NEC will avail itself to be used to achieve this goal is unfortunate. Sir, the National Elections Commission is aware of and has applied, times without numbers, the provision of Article 79(d) of the Constitution of Liberia in regulating political parties. It cannot, at the same time, begin to do things to violate this Constitutional provision. The fact that your editorial selected to associate the Commission with such scheme is what disturbs the Commission most.
Let me state that the only currency in which the Commission trades in the conduct of elections, is TRUST. Whatever the Commission did in preparation for the 2014 Special Senatorial Election was done with the intent to preserve and protect the sanctity of the electoral process in this country.
Let me close by unequivocally stating that the NEC remains committed to upholding the trust of the Liberian people in all of its activities.
Thank you vey much and best regards
Jerome G. Korkoya, J.D.
Thanks for your clarifications. We wish to make but one comment: We notice that NEC used one of the most insignificant and most irregular newspapers to publicize the various centers and movement schedules of the VRU Teams. No wonder many people in the country have complained that they did not know where to go to register. – ED