Liberia: National Elections Commission Must Sensitize, educate Voters on Biometric Voting


The National Elections Commission (NEC)Must Sensitize and educate Voters About Biometric Voting Ahead of Elections In 2023.

VOTERS CASTING their ballots in next October Presidential and Legislative elections in Liberia will more than likely have no idea what a biometric voter registration is – and this could spell trouble in the aftermath of the elections.

IN A BIOMETRIC VOTING SYSTEM, the voters are registered based on their unique physical characteristics like fingerprints and even facial or IRIS recognition. Using these biometric characteristics, a person is registered as a voter. Identity theft, voting fraud, and other forms of voter fraud and tampering are targeted by biometric technology. The biometric voting system aims to provide a unique list of voters with zero duplicate voters. 

WITH LESS THAN twelve months until the 2023 elections, the National Elections Commission is still struggling to bring closure to the saga involving the bidding process to select a qualified company up to the task of

BIOMETRIC VOTING is still very new in a lot of countries. Even for those with limited success, lingering questions remain. The same will no doubt apply to Liberia, when the dust over the bidding saga is over.

IN FACT, ELECTION MANAGERS in some countries are still having difficulty enrolling and verifying voters leading to many unanswered questions and reports of foul play, irregularities and a bit of uncertainty.

SUCH REPORTS GIVE rise to negative impact on emerging and existing democratic systems.

WHAT THE ELECTIONS COMMISSION should be doing now is educating and sensitizing the public about this new system of voting. However, the commission has been swarmed with questions over its handling of the process.

Six companies — Waymark and Mwetana, HID Global and PSI, Electoral Services International, Network Solutions, Laxton, and Ekemp expressed interest in the biometric voter registration materials contract worth nearly US$12 million. The companies applied and participated in the evaluation process conducted by the evaluation panel, but a controversial Chinese company, EKEMP was considered the most responsive, something that brought about concerns from sources following the procedure.

MADAM DAVIDETTA BROWNE LANSANA, chair of the NEC has come under fire amid concerns that she has been playing favorites with the Chinese firm, Ekemp, prompting the PPCC to request that bidders be reinvited to appear before the Bid Evaluation Panel of the NEC for a video-recorded redemonstration of Physical presentations, regarding the bid after Ekemp was declared the winner following the first presentation.

DURING THE SECOND presentation, Ekemp’s performance was below par with many international observers present, agreeing that the company had some lapses that raised questions about its ability to perform the task of handling the biometric voting process in next year’s elections.

DESPITE ALL the concerns, NEC chair Browne, who has been accused of playing favorites for Ekemp, told a news conference last week that her Commission had not awarded the contract for the supply of biometric materials and equipment for the 2023 elections as has been reported and speculated.

DEFENDING HER POSITION, the NEC chair explained that the comparative audited income statements of each of the bidder showed that only Ekemp/INITS/Palm and Laxton have implemented a project worth this amount over the last two years.

MADAM BROWNE claimed that Laxton failed to provide audited financial statements for the immediate past year (2021), which is a requirement in the standard bidding documents. Laxton only provided statements for the fiscal years 2020 and 2019 and did not provide audited financial statements, the NEC chair noted.

SHE FURTHER NOTED that Laxton expressed a condition regarding its ability to pre-finance. “The NEC did not and has not awarded any contract to the recommended bidder or to any other bidders in this matter. Moreover, the original report shows that only Ekemp/Inits/Palm and ESI made it to the final stage of the evaluation,” the chair said.

SAID THE NEC CHAIR: “After taking receipt of the Evaluation Panel’s report, the Procurement Committee of the NEC reviewed the standard bidding documents; the proposal of each bidder and finding that the Panel’s report is supported by the record, the standard bidding documents and the Act, the Procurement Committee, by a unanimous vote endorsed the Evaluation Panel’s report and recommendation. The original Report shows, among others, that only Electoral Services International (ESI), the joint venture of Professional Services Inc./HID Global, and the joint venture of EKEMP/INITS/Palm met the pre-finance requirement.”

THE FAILURE OF NEC to lay this issue of the biometric voting system to rest speaks volumes. It also raises concerns that even though most countries are catching on to the biometric registration and voting technologies, there is no guarantee that Liberia will, especially with the elections so close at hand.

WHATEVER NEC’S motives are, one thing remains certain. Voters and those preparing for the upcoming Presidential and legislative elections keen on seeing this new process make a difference and restore confidence in the voting system, may be in for a difficult spell.

WHAT THIS ALSO could mean is that any sign of irregularities in the voting process next year could lead Liberia down a familiar path of confusion, chaos and uncertainty.