Liberia: Senator Signals Throws Jabs at NEC, Signals ‘Bad Omen for Free & Fair Elections
Monrovia – Ahead of the 2023 general and presidential elections in Liberia, the Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence faction of the opposition Liberty Party has presented a petition to the International Community, calling for the replacement of the chairperson of the National Elections Commission (NEC) Counselor Davidetta Browne Lasannah for the alleged display of partisanship, interference into intra-party affairs and conflict of interest in executing her statutory responsibilities.
The petition was submitted to the United Nations Resident Coordinator, the Heads of the African Union Delegation to Liberia, European Union Delegation, United States Ambassador, Michael McCarthy, and Ambassador Josephine Nkrumah, Ambassador of ECOWAS to Liberia in Monrovia over the weekend.
It was presented under the signature of the party’s Political Leader Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence.
Senator Lawrence also led a group of executives, partisans and others and presented similar petition to the National Elections Commission (NEC).
In the petition, the LP disclosed that it has had a close engagement with the NEC Board of Commissioners during the course of its intra-Party conflict, but over the period, the commission “has relegated its non-partisan role to that of a partisan institution that proceeds to embolden the conflict within the Liberty Party.”
It noted that the Revised Guidelines of the Elections Commission (Sections 3.4) provide that following a party’s convention, the records of the proceedings must be submitted by the Chairperson/presiding officer of the Convention and the secretary.
But on the contrary, the party added that, its newly elected Chairman and the Secretary, Musa Bility and Martin Kollah respectively, submitted the Liberty Party’s 2021 Convention records on February 26, 2021after concealing the final records including the amended Constitution and the minutes from the Political Leader.
“Not only did the two elected officers secretly submit the documents without the knowledge of the Chairperson/Presiding officer of the Convention, but they also proceeded to alter provisions relating to the power relation between the Political Leader and the National Executive Committee. The Political Leader accordingly, informed the NEC that the documents from the convention were submitted outside of the Commission’s Revised Guidelines and that provisions approved by delegates had been altered, thus necessitating a retrieval for correction.
The NEC rejected such a request insisting that it could not return the document until properly challenged.”
The party maintained that the commission also mandated the LP to proceed and make use of its internal mechanism to resolve the situation, a move which prompted a meeting of the two conflicting parties held at the Farmington Hotel on October 2, 2021.
At the meeting, the LP petition disclosed that, it was acknowledged, upon a review of the convention’s records, that indeed provisions were changed from its constitution.
“The two parties also signed a memorandum of understanding in which they expressly agreed to withdraw and correct the altered constitution.”
The statement maintained that though the Farmington MOU along with the report of the National Advisory Council under whose authority the meeting was held was submitted to the authorities of the NEC, the “Elections Management Body has remained recalcitrant to honor the document.”
“As if this action of the NEC was not sufficient to draw a dim view of its image to the public, the NEC, though one of its Commissioners, Madam Tiplah Reeves, issued a communication to Mr. Musa Bility, the Chairman whose conduct was under question as a result of the alteration, to proceed with a bogus convention, using the very constitution whose provisions he had changed.”
The LP recalled that in a further attempt to promote the intra-party conflict, the NEC and Mr. Bility initiated action to organize yet another convention where a new Political Leader was supposed to be elected.
“Upon seeing notice of said convention, we filed to the Supreme Court for a Writ of Prohibition to prevent the occurrence. This necessitated two conferences with Justice Jamesetta Howard-Wolokollie and the current Chief Justice, Her Honor, Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh. It will interest you to note that during the two conferences, the lawyer of the National Elections Commission, His Honor, former Justice M. Wilkins Wright, was present.”
It further recalled that the Supreme Court mandated that, as agreed in the Farmington MOU, both parties were under obligation to recall and correct the altered Constitution.
In fulfillment of its determination to bring the matter to a close, the LP noted that, the Court subsequently made available its Library for the parties to converge and correct the Constitution, which was done with no hindrance.
“As a final stage of the exercise, the corrected Constitution was immediately submitted to the NEC on July 11, 2022. We believe this effort had effectively brought to a close the long-running intra-party conflict. Unfortunately, the NEC again, refused to log the instrument, thereby enabling Mr. Bility to arrogate to himself powers he does not have under the Constitution.”
Conflict of interest
The LP pointed out that in furtherance to these issues, is the NEC Chairperson’s demonstrated conflict of interest exhibited during her corruption case with the Government of Liberia.
While the resolution of the Liberty Party case remains morgue at the NEC, the LP recalled that Cllr. Browne-Lasannah turned to Mr. Musa Bility, a party to the intra-party conflict, to secure a bond for her in the said case.
“But that was not the only exhibition of conflict of interest. Every time the indicted NEC boss went to court, it was Mr. Bility who escorted her. How in this world could a serious integrity institution conduct itself in such an unprofessional manner?”
“The NEC is being used by hidden hands, clearly the ruling party from which it receives instructions, to preside over the systematic disintegration of the Liberty Party, and we are not prepared to see this happen.”
The party emphasized that though it remains focused on these “repugnant attitudes” of the NEC towards it, the executives of the LP feel compelled to mention the potentially crippling effects of the actions of the Chairperson, Madam Davidetta Browne-Lansanah, and her Board of Commissioners on the general state of the Elections Commission as an integrity institution.
“We know that it is not necessarily what happens on Election Day that characterizes it as being credible or fraudulent. The processes that precede the electoral circle are instructive of what the outcomes would be. We have observed from a litany of events at the NEC that Liberia could be headed for trouble should the Commission remain as it presently is.”
The LP made specific reference to Cllr. Browne-Lasannah’s role in the procurement of twenty (20) thermometers, with a price tag of USD$9,166 per piece which in reality was valued at USD$500 per unit, and the current procurement process for the biometric materials for the conduct of the 2023 general and presidential elections.
It added that these roles have the propensity of endangering the conduct of the 2023 Elections.
“We are witnessing a clear lack of direction for our democratic process. Of concern, also, is the conflict of interest that was associated with that deal. The NEC boss chose her biological brother who is the CEO of the IT firm known as Tuma Enterprise, to execute the contract. Are these not visible indications of somebody presiding over an integrity institution but does not have the pedigree of integrity?”
The LP, however, advanced several recommendations to the International Community for the successful conduct of the country’s next elections.
It maintained that the NEC is the principal enabler of the negative actions of Mr. Bility in the ongoing intra-party conflict it is currently faced with.
It called on Liberia’s international partners to also exert all influences at their disposal, on the NEC to have it log without delay, the corrected version of the Liberty Party Constitution.
This, the party emphasized, will, in effect, bring to a close the question of who does what in the party, as the Constitution is very clear on this matter.
“Given the corrupt nature of the Chairperson of NEC, she should step down as head of NEC to restore confidence in the Commission. Her retention as Chair will be a bad omen for free, fair, and credible 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections.”
The LP stated that due to the incompetency of the Board of Commissioners and their ruling party affiliation, five-member counterpart commissioners composed of Electoral Experts from ECOWAS, the African Union, and the United Nations should also be established to jointly conduct the 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections to prevent the country from returning to chaos.
It also called on the International Community to assist Liberia with International IT Experts to be assigned to jointly operate the Data Center in conjunction with NEC Data Team to avoid the fraud that was associated with the 2017 Voter Registration process.
The LP noted that the Biometric Voter Registration Gadgetry should be procured by Liberia’s international partner, the United National Development Programme (UNDP) and the software remains in their care to ensure fair play for all.
“Finally, we appeal to ECOWAS and the United Nations to send a Technical Electoral Team to assess the situation at the NEC about their preparedness for the conduct of the 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections.”
“We need not overemphasize the importance of 2023 as it relates to the much anticipated Presidential and Legislative Elections. The stakes in the 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections could never be higher. This is why we in Liberty Party, in particular, and the Liberian nation, in general, are very circumspect about the conduct of individuals who are charged with the responsibility of supervising the elections. This brings us to the Electoral Management Body (EMB) which is charged with the responsibility of conducting said elections in an impartial and even-handed manner.”
Meanwhile, the LP has acknowledged the enormous contributions the International Community continue to make towards the growth of Liberia’s nascent democracy.
It recalled that this unwavering support now enables Liberia to have had three circles of Presidential and Legislative Elections (2005, 2011, 2017) coming out of the ashes of a senseless civil conflict that took away the lives of more than 200,000 citizens.
The petition submitted to the NEC was received by its Chairperson Cllr. Davidetta Browne Lasannah.
The NEC has promised to release a statement on the petition received.
Sick and tire of responding
For his part, Mr. Bility expressed unwillingness to adequately respond to the latest action taken by Senator Karnga-Lawrence and the others to petition the NEC and the International Community.
“We believe in the rule of law and at this point, responding to Nyonblee is meaningless. She has no understanding of the law and the party. And I am just sick and tire responding to her. I cannot operate like that; the court decides and they said no the court didn’t decide; NEC decided and they said no NEC didn’t decide. What do I have to respond to?”
“She has filed a complaint again. By law, anybody who files complain, the court got to hear you. But, she (Nyonblee) does not deserve my respond anymore