Liberia: NEC Suspected of Sealing Deal With EKEMP for Biometric Products Despite Contract Pending PPCCs Approval

Monrovia — There is a suspicion of compromise between the National Elections Commission and its preferred company for the supply of materials for the pending biometric voter registration. Though the Public Procurement Concession Commission is yet to approve the EKEMP for the contract, it already has the NEC listed as one of its clients on its website, www.ekemp.com.cn.

The logo of the NEC is placed among several others at the bottom it’s the homepage of EKEMP’s website.

The National Elections Commission declined to comment when FrontPageAfrica requested comments on why its emblem was on the website on EKEMP International as a client.

However, there are suspicions among stakeholders that the NEC may have already concluded a deal with the company to have given them the impetus to place the NEC’s emblem on its website.

FrontPageAfrica gathered six companies including Network Solutions, Ekemp Int’l, Election Services Inc., HID Global and Liberian Partner, Waymark Infotech and Local Liberian Partner and Laxton competed for the contract. However, only three companies were qualified for the final round.

Our investigation gathered that Laxton was disqualified because they submitted biometric kits with laptops instead of tablets with fingerprint scanners as requested by the bid document. EKEMP and HID Global presented almost the same biometric kits with tablets and fingerprint scanners.

However, sources familiar with the evaluation of the two companies expressed concern that EKEMP, a Chinese firm, did not provide the security features as requested by the bid document, but rather its own features.

HID Global, FrontPageAfrica gathered provided the specified security features of the hologram and proposed chip as requested in the bid document.

This has prompted the U.S. Embassy to send a diplomatic note to the government requesting a specimen of the biometric voter ID card.

FrontPageAfrica is in possession of a communication from the Acting Minister of State to the chairperson of the NEC requesting the specimen. The August 1, 2022 communication reads:

Madam Chairperson:

I present my compliments and wish to inform that the Ministry has received a Diplomatic Note from the Embassy of the United States of America near Monrovia requesting a specimen of the national voter registration card.

The Ministry looks forward to your kind response to said request in order to revert to the Embassy in a timely manner.

With kind regards.

Sincerely,

Thelma E. Duncan Sawyer (Mrs.)

Acting Minister

FrontPageAfrica has not been able to establish whether the specimen has been provided as requested.

Pre-financing Capacity

A FrontPageAfrica investigation further discovered that Laxton, the disqualified company reported annual revenue of US$48 million for 2021 while Ekemp reported US$50 million. HID Global reported total annual revenue of US$6.2 billion for 2021.

BVR Rejected by the House

The NEC’s decision to transition to Biometric Voter Roll starting with the 2023 presidential and general elections has not been greeted with the enthusiasm it expected from the public including the chambers of the 54th Legislature that appropriated a hefty budget for the exercise.

Following the announcement, the House of Representatives, acquiescing to Rep. Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis’ request, summoned the Election House before its full Plenary to explain more on the biometric registration process.

Following an hour-long grilling, the House, apparently not convinced with Madam Lansanah and her deputy’s explanation, mandated its Committee on Elections & Inauguration and Contracts & Monopoly to further review the NEC’s decision and advice the body.

Pending the Joint Committee’s report, FrontPageAfrica has gathered that the Committee is expected to snub the NEC’s decision and recommend the cancellation of the biometric voter registration exercise over fears that the country was not fully prepared.

This report, though unverified, reflects the sentiments expressed by majority members of the House in plenary during the appearance of the NEC Chairperson.

The lawmakers raised concerns over the lack of network in most parts of the country, especially in rural Liberia. While they welcome the biometric registration, they believe that the country’s electoral system is not yet prepared to absorb it.

Some lawmakers argued that the biometric system has never been tested at the community level or during any of the Country’s recent by-elections and as such, it may not be prudent to use it in forthcoming Presidential & Legislative Elections.

Representative Dennis, who championed the appearance of the NEC’s said introducing the biometric registration in a crucial election was worrisome as it has not been tested before.

She said: “One of my reasons for my hesitancy is that, we are introducing something new in a bigger election. We did not pilot this biometric voter registration. We had the Lofa, Bomi, Grand Gedeh and Nimba by-elections. I thought it would have been prudent to pilot it in the smaller elections before the bigger one; taking into consideration the cultural, social and legal consequences.”

Despite Madam Lansanah’s assurance that the NEC has put in place all necessary measures to ensure a successful process, plenary was not convinced to grant approval.

Rep. Ivar Jones (Margibi District #2) said he was not convinced with the NEC Chair’s explanation, and there was need to bring in the technical people to provide more clarity.

Unenthusiastic Response

The biometric voter registration exercise is one of several activities that have been greeted with a lukewarm reactions by cross section of the Liberian society including the opposition and civil society.

The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC), the largest civil society platform that observes elections in Liberia, in a statement following the NEC’s pronouncement said, it welcomed the use of the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) for the conduct of the 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections, but with caution.

The ECC noted that the technology, if it is set up properly and in a timely manner, can add value to the quality of the electoral process; minimizing double registration, automatic de-duplication fraud and manipulation of the voter roll.

However, it was quick to point out that while it commends the NEC for the transition to BVR, the process is not free of risks, rolling out several recommendations.

“The NEC needs to inform the public which model of the BVR that has been selected and what are the pros and cons associated with its usage. The NEC should inform the public about the profile of the vendor that was selected and its track record in managing a BVR system,” it urged.

It also called on the NEC to inform the public about the total cost of the purchase and installation of the technology in order to assess its efficiency; adding this is against the background that the government has allocated US$20 million in the 2022 national budget.”

It also raised concerns that the voter registration exercise will commence before the completion of the planned national census.

The Legislature recently adopted a joint resolution #001/2022, authorizing the Executive Branch of the Government to proceed to make the necessary preparations for the conduct of the National Census from October 24 to November 7, 2022.

The ECC noted that while the BVR may eradicate double registration, it will not solve the issue of voter trucking which is associated with vote buying, a phenomenon that is becoming institutionalized in the country’s fragile democracy.

Considering that the NEC is moving on to a completely new system that has never been used before, nor has it been piloted, two months for CVE is not sufficient to ensure adequate awareness and participation of citizens or voters, it noted.

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