Liberia’s International Partners and Stakeholders Must Intervene and Press for Investigation into Email Scandal at Elections Commission
THE NATIONAL ELECTIONS Commission of Liberia has been caught in an outright lie in its attempt to dismiss sensitive internal communications obtained by FrontPageAfrica this week in which the hierarchy of the National Elections Commission are said to be discussing suspicious activities associated with the now controversial voter roll that has become front and center of the case before the Supreme Court.
WHEN FRONTPAGEAFRICA initially came in possession of the email, we immediately made contact with the authorities of NEC through its head of communications Mr. Henry Flomo, who declined to respond to FrontPageAfrica inquiry but declared that the commission would instead address the matter through a news conference.
AT THE NEWS conference Monday, Mr. Flomo told reporters that the emails were fake and insisted that they were forged as their contents do not match any information within NEC’s database.
SAID FLOMO: “The Commission clarifies that the emails in question were never written nor circulated by the Chairman of the Commission, Cllr. Jerome Korkoya, and the contents contained therein are false and only designed to cause confusion in the country,” he said.
FLOMO ALSO suggested that the dates on the communications were wrong, a charge that was later bolstered on state radio LBS by Mr. Lamin Lighe, Executive Director of the National Elections Commission(NEC) who describe the date lapse as a clear sign that the emails were fake.
BUT IN A STUNNING TURN of events, several computer systems and technical experts who reviewed the backend of the emails explained to FrontPageAfrica that the date lapse was due to what is known in technology circles as Transcription Error, an error which occurs when text is transcribed from one medium to another.
GEORGE FAHNBULLEH, Software Solutions Architect and Programming Data Scientist with Lake Piso Technologies explains: “So, initially someone decided rather than use the screenshot, they would in fact type what was in the screenshot. In that process they made an error of "Wednesday."
FRONTPAGEAFRICA ACKNOWLEDGES this error and have produced the actual screenshot as received from its sources, of what was transcribed from the backend which clearly shows the dates on the mail, Wednesday, July 26 and Thursday, July 27. 2017, are correct.
ON WEDNESDAY, JULY 26, 2017, a letter to NEC chair Cllr. Jerome Korkoya, written at approximately 9:19 pm local time identified some suspicious activity involving the voter roll.
The communication reads:
Good Morning, Chairman,
I hope all is well with you. Last night while backing up the system database and folders, I noticed that there are changes and addition being made to the parent folder of the final voter roster.
The most significant changes of concern to me is the creation of a new voters file with the same exact name as the previous, and the addition of numbers that were not included on the listing we all signoff on few weeks ago.
Most interestingly, the new folder being created mimics some of the same information in the initial parent folder listing. Going through the new folder, the names, ages, location, sex and location of voters have changed.
Furthermore, the pictures of voters on the new listing do not match what is on the compiled final file of those that registered to vote. I am looking through this more and will provide you with additional information.
A source at NEC confirmed to FPA that once the NEC chair came into possession of the information and the discovery he promised to discuss the matter with the board of commissioners but he reportedly did not.
ON THURSDAY, JULY 27, 2017, Cllr. Korkoya wrote:
I`m currently in a meeting with Weedor and others. Make plans to meet with me after lunch and we will discuss this further.
THE SENDER of the email replied on Thursday, July 27, 2017:
Subject: RE: Unknown Database Changes:
Thanks for the clarity, Chairman.
Is it possible that I meet with them to discuss this further and correct some of the issues? I believed these are intentional errors being made that could cause serious issues and problem for the voters and the entire process.
Creating similar file with the same name, in the same directory of the root folder will confuse the system and will put out wrongful information once queries are made from registrants.
Technically, we do not need two live files in our database.
We should have one file as a backup in case of any issues that may arise. Are you aware of the additional 62,346 voters that were added to both file by Administrator 2, yesterday at 4:23 PM? They were never part of the final excel numbers from the various counties. Also, who is Administrator 2?
Subject: RE: Unknown Database Changes Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Our local IT vendor is making additional adjustments to our system, to accommodate the SMS query and voters information platform that we will be rolling out soon. This was discussed in our last executive meeting.
In a separate communication dated Thursday, November 9, 2017, Chairman Korkoya wrote a letter to the board of commissioners appearing to acknowledge the problem but cautioning against allow the information to get into the public domain.
IN THE WAKE OF this new development, we are now calling on NEC to produce all of the emails from their server and present them to authorities and the international community for examination. Moreover, we are challenging the elections commission to deny this.
THE VOTER ROLL controversy has been a thorny issue in this electoral year. NEC’S own lawyer, Cllr. Frank Musa Dean confirmed that the numbers attached to voters were similar but with distinction on the age, sex and names. The lawyer further stated that the entire case is politically motivated and is not in the interest of the country."
FAHNBULLEH EXPLAINS that this represents a fundamental flaw in the database architecture. “This is never supposed to happen. This is like someone from Social Security Administration saying "this George and Ambrose have the same social security number but the other information is different so its fine. He SERVED THIS UP ON A SILVER PLATTER!!!,” said Mr. Fahnbulleh.
FAHNBULLEH ARGUES that database design/architecture should not be a challenge in 2017, even for a poor country like Liberia which is the oldest in Africa. “For a student in "Intro to Relational Databases" yes it should be a challenge. For a professional organization with a $19M budget, IT SHOULD NOT BE A CHALLENGE!” BOTH LAWYERS FOR NEC, "Cllrs. Dean and Alexander Zoe, , agreed that there were many challenges, but had taken steps to correct those challenges so that they won’t be experienced in the runoff. They argued that those challenges are not guaranteed for a rerun of the entire elections." BUT FAHNBULLEH ARGURES that the fact there were 15,000 duplicate voter ID's in the file, suggests neither of these fundamental architectural/design constraints were put in. “Let me be clear, if you registered for "Introduction to Databases" and dropped the class after 2 weeks, you would have learned about "primary keys. In light of this apparently fatal technical flaw, the litigants should have then demanded: 1) the NEC freeze the database (by making a certified copy and removing that copy from the premises.) ;(2) a copy of the database be given to the litigants for inspection. This would have allowed the litigants to actually query the database and note all of its design/data flaws.”
FAHNBULLEH ARGUES that the design/architecture flaw here is so severe, that it is impossible to believe there are not even more serious flaws in the database. “It is also impossible to know for certain, without an inspection of a copy of the actual database. How, if at all, did the NEC correct the problem of 15,000 duplicate voter IDs? Is there an audit trail which shows how the correction was handled?”
THERE IS NO DOUBT that there were some serious irregularities in this year’s elections. Whether they reach the level or magnitude to change the outcome of the results, we do not know. What we do know is that the issue of voter roll is a serious one and any communication that spells out the flaws and issues at the core of this controversy cannot and should not be overlooked.
THIS IS WHY we are calling on the international community to look into the issue and make sure that the red flags raised are thoroughly investigated in a transparent and accountable fashion.
THIS IS NECESSARY due to our history, a post-war nation, the oldest on the continent of Africa with a history of disputed elections in both 1927 and 1985 still haunting our memory.
WE MUST NOT AND SHOULD not allow such glaring errors of our electoral system to go unchecked. NEC cannot and must not be allowed to police itself by dismissing these emails as fake. The future of our bourgeoning democracy depends on how we as a nation and people handle the delicacies of the very issues we once despised and criticized in previous governments.
WE ARE NO DIFFERENT from the dictators and rulers of the past, if we shun and shoot down messengers of peace and trumpeters of free speech. Getting to the bottom of these emails should be the top priority of this country and its international partners.