Liberia: No Money For Biometric Voter Registration

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MONROVIA – The Senate Joint Committees on Autonomous Commission and Agencies and Ways, Means, Finance and Budget is recommending to the Plenary of the Senate to request the National Elections Commission to re-program its US$91.9 million budget it earlier submitted for the conduct of 2023 Presidential and General Elections.

The recommendation is in honor of the Plenary’s mandate to the Committee Autonomous Commission and Agencies, chaired by Senator Henrique Tokpah of Bong County and that of the Ways, Means and Finance Committee chair by Senator Morris Saytumah of Bomi County to review the NEC budget of US$91.9 million and advice plenary.

Madam Davidetta Browne-Lansanah chairperson of the National Election Commission (NEC), however, maintained that the budget is realistic due to the introduction of the Biometric Voter Registration and its pilot project and the establishment of 14 magistrate offices.

In the Committee’s recommendation to the National Elections Commission, the Committee is requesting the re-programming of the budget on priorities and, because of the importance of the 2023 General and Presidential Elections, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning be made to pay to the NEC based on the re-programed budget as per priority.

“As a country, we do not have the financial capacity to do Biometric Voter Registration, the joint committee encourages the government of Liberia to negotiate, consult and seek help from our international Partners to do BVR is we agree to do it now.”

In response to setting up of 14 new magisterial office across the country, the Senate has also said, “There should be no additional offices or extension of magisterial offices across the country due to economic hardship and limited funding.”

Why the US$91.9 Million

In its defense to the Joint Committee, the NEC said, it finds it feasible to do a Biometric Voter Registration during the 2023 general elections in Liberia, which will cost US$29.6 million and the pilot project of the biometric will cost US$4M and will be done in Rivercess County.

The NEC also told the joint committee’s members that they intend to establish 14 additional magisterial offices across the country which will cost US$1.2M.

The National Elections Commission has set-up a committee headed by Commissioner Kpangbai to figure out how the NEC can use the appropriate data from the NIR. The Commission has not done constituency delimitation in line with Article 80€ of the Constitution since 2008 census.

The NEC it will in the last half of 2021, need US$4M for the Biometric Voter Registration pilot project. In 2022, the Commission will need US$41M of its total submission to undertake activities which are pre-requisite for the 2023 general elections.

The National Elections Commission (NEC), in keeping with Section 11.2 of the Elections law,   submitted to the Liberian Legislature a draft budget of US$91,958,547.72 for the conduct of the 2023 Presidential and General elections.

In a communication to both Senate and House of Representatives, the NEC said the total amount projected is for biometric system to conduct voters’ registration and elections.

The NEC’s communication came in the wake of Grand Cape Mount Senator Varney Sherman’s warning over a potential constitutional crisis if ‘inchoate problems’ associated with the 2023 Presidential and Legislative elections are not addressed.

In his communication, Senator Sherman, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked his colleagues to join him to demand the NEC to submit a tentative budget for the conduct of the 2023 polls. He also suggested that the Legislature allocate certain amount in each annual budget as of now in readiness for the 2023 presidential and legislative elections.

“If we wait until 2023, as we did in 2020 to find the funds for 2023 presidential and legislative elections, we run risk that we might not have sufficient funds and we might for the second time be faced with the issue of postponement of those elections. That will be the second time that we will be playing with a constitutionally-mandated election day because of our failure and/or neglect to prepare in advance for the obvious,” he warned his colleagues back then.

The 2023 election will comprise presidential election and election for both houses of the Legislature.

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