Monrovia – Liberia could be heading into a serious constitutional crisis as uncertainties hang over the conduct of two by-elections for the Senate due to unclear commitment regarding finances to conduct the elections.
The National Elections Commission (NEC), which should conduct elections in two separate by-elections for Montserrado County and Bong County within 90 days, has complained that there is no money to carry out the process. It has put the budget to around US$3.9M for the conduct of the by-elections in both counties.
As it stands, it is not clear whether there will be by-election that would find replacers for the two former senators, George Weah and Jewel Howard Taylor. Both were elected to the nation’s highest offices – President and Vice President – in the December 2017 runoff election.
According to the Chairman of the NEC, Cllr. Jerome Korkoya, the Commission is yet to receive formal response from the Government regarding the final budget or a schedule of commitments and payments.
“It is important to stress that the National Elections Commission needs these budgetary discussions to be concluded urgently to meet the electoral timetable. Procurement and planning deadlines to meet the election date are fast approaching and as such; the Commission is asking the government to prioritize this matter so as to ensure that the controlling constitutional provisions are met.”
At a press conference Monday, March 5, held at the headquarters of NEC, Cllr. Korkoya told newsmen that, based on the notice from the Senate, the Chairman of the Commission, acting on behalf of the Board of Commissioners, constituted a steering Committee on February 14, 2018 to plan and oversee the conduct of the two by-elections within the timeframe mandated by the constitution.
The Committee chaired by Commissioner Boakai Dukuly and Co-chair by the NEC Director of Compliance and Risk Management, Anthony Sengbe, developed a budget for the delivery of the pending elections amounting to US$3.9 million along with a clear electoral calendar.
Article 37 of the Liberian Constitution states, “In the event of a vacancy in the Legislature caused by death, resignation, and expulsion or otherwise, the presiding officer shall within 30 days notify the Elections Commission thereof.
The Elections Commission shall not later than 90 days thereafter cause a by-election to be held; provided that where such vacancy occurs within 90 days prior to the holding of general elections, the filling of the vacancy shall await the holding of such general elections.
“It is important to stress that the National Elections Commission needs these budgetary discussions to be concluded urgently to meet the electoral timetable. Procurement and planning deadlines to meet the election date are fast approaching and as such, the commission is asking the Government and Ministry of Finance to prioritize this matter so as to ensure that the controlling constitutional provisions are met,” Korkoya said.
Facts and Figures from NEC
Nationally, there are 2.1 million registered voters. Of this figure, Montserrado has 778,291, while Bong has 208,123. The combined total of registered voters in the two counties (Bong and Montserrado) is 986,414 or 45 percent of the total registered voters in Liberia.
The two counties have a total of 2,292 polling places with 1,790 of these in Montserrado County and Bong County accounting for 502. This represents a total of 43 percent of the total number of 5,390 polling places in Liberia.