Liberia: New Elections Commission Chair Slashes Predecessor’s US$17.8M Budget for Dec. 8 Midterm Election Down to US$13.5M
Monrovia – The National Elections Commission (NEC) has reduced the previously submitted US$17.8 million for the December 8, 2020 Midterm senatorial elections to US$13.5 million, a reduction of 27% a move being praised by both the Government and the international development partners.
Before the end of his tenure, former NEC chairman, Cllr, Jerome Kokoyah, submitted a budget in the tone of US$23m to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. After rigorous reviews by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning and development partners, the budget was reduced by US$ 5.2m or 23.%. Even after the reduction, the Government and development partners insisted that there was still a need for a further reduction, but Kokoya and other Commissioners insisted that any more cuts would compromise the integrity of the elections.
The continuation of the examination and reduction of the budget for the Midterm elections was now left to the new administration chaired by Commissioner Davidetta Brown-Lassanah. After taking over as Chair, she and her team immediately undertook a further review of the budget. After a laborious review lasting for nearly two months, the budget was further slashed by 27%, bringing the total budget down from US$17.8m to US$13.5m- a difference of US$4.3m.
In February, Cllr. Korkoya, appearing before the Senate, expressed doubts over the possibility of conducting a “credible election” in 2020, due to the Commission being beyond schedule to implement some pre-election activities.
The former NEC chair told senators that up to time of his speaking, NEC was yet to receive a dime from the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning of the US$17 million budget needed for the conduct of the election.
Further, the NEC boss told the lawmakers that, since December 2019 where a commitment of US$7 million was made to get started, the Finance Minister is yet to make good on the commitment. He further stated that he has been informed by Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah that there is no allotment in the budget for the election and that he (Tweah) needs to seek approval from the legislature to source funding for the election. “In my little experience, I do not believe we can achieve all that we should be doing by now effectively in keeping with transparency that should characterize the Special Senatorial Election in October of this year. And in term of how late we are, I think we are very late.”
In October of 2019, Finance Minister Tweah expressed doubt about sourcing money to fund the 2020 Special Senatorial Election. He had vowed then that money generated as civil servants’ salary will not be used to fund the electoral process.
Appearing on the state broadcaster on November 4, 2019, Minister Tweah had said the Government will not affect its already struggling payroll to fund elections as much as the election is important. “We need to find resources; we have balanced the payroll and want to pay regularly. We are not going to affect the payroll because of elections. We will not take civil servants pay to fund elections if that will mean I am no more Minister of Finance, so be it,” he said.
The minister continued: “We will have elections but that means we will have to find the money to do that. We are working on a lot of ways for money to come in. If some of those monies come in, it will be used to fund elections. Elections funding is a major process. We could rephrase some of the budget line items so the money that should be going to agriculture in the budget will be affected.”
Sources at NEC hinted that the Government has made available to NEC a sum of US$2m and has budgeted for FY 2020/2021 a total of US$8m, thereby bringing total government contribution for the elections to US$10m. This implies that development partners will provide US$3.5m for the financing of the elections, the lowest contribution from partners for elections since the end of the war.
Experts in political governance and electioneering hailed the budget reduction as consistent with the Government’s fiscal consolidation programs and noted that this is a strong beginning for the new Chair. Political pundits believe that the new and consultative measures between NEC, MFDP, and partners will ease the tension around the cost of elections and give greater confidence to development partners.
It can be recalled that there has been a severe tussle over the cost of elections between MFDP and NEC, leading to delays in the previous bi-elections. But analysts say fighting over costs of elections may be over since the new NEC Chair has a more realistic approach to election budgeting.