In Liberia:  The NEC Has Neither Legal Nor Statutory Authority To Produce Biometric IDs


The recent kerfuffle over the NECs contracting of a vendor for biometric services has exposed one of the most vexing questions of governance in Liberia: the failure of the Liberian legislature to provide proper oversight over the malign and illegal actions of government agencies.

I am of the opinion as the right to vote is a civil right, the NEC’s action, which is OUTSIDE THE SCOPE OF ITS LEGAL AND STATUTORY AUTHORITY, would jeopardize and violate citizens right to have their vote counted.

By George K. Fahnbulleh

These illegal actions render government agencies non-functional, because the monies required to execute their core functions are cannibalized by one or more other agencies using the excuse of urgency and expediency. This is exactly what the NEC is doing to the National Identification Registry (NIR).

The Act creating the NIR (08/08/2011) is unambiguous in (emphasis are the author’s)

3.1 The general function of the Registry ‘shall be to design, establish, maintain and administer implement the National Biometric Identification System (NBIS) of the Republic of Liberia.

3.2 In furtherance of its general function as set forth hereinabove, the Registry shall, have the following specific functions:

a. To design, establish and/or ‘acquire the technical infrastructure and control procedures that will serve as the platform for implementation of the NBIS;

b. To collect, organize, store, secure, and grant access to secure biometric data to be collected from individuals applying for national biometric identification cards; and other key document such as Passport, Driver’s license and Social Security cards.

c. To evaluate and determine, in keeping with due process of law, the adequacy of information provided by applicants for biometric identification cards;

d. To design, produce, and issue biometric cards, each with a unique identifying number to be called a Social Security Number, to be the primary government approved identity number (for registration of birth, death, passports, immigrant documents, bank accounts, Drivers License social security benefits, and other identification documents) supported by adequate and appropriate security features to address the challenge of possible fraudulent duplication;

e. To develop and adopt appropriate rules and procedures for the submission and evaluation of biometric data and other information as well as the storage and security of such data and information;

f. To advise and assist the Government of Liberia and its agencies in improving and strengthening the collection, storage, evaluation and security of information and documents collected to register births, issue passports, and other identification documents.

g. To engage and hire employees and other members of staff for the effective discharge of its functions and in connection therewith -to determine the compensation and other terms and conditions of employment fur staff;

h. To solicit funding and technical assistance for the purpose of carrying on its functions;

i. To purchase all necessary equipment, services and supplies appropriate for the execution of its responsibilities;

j. To ensure that the collection and release of data are in conformity with the Freedom of Information laws of Liberia and do not in any way infringe on the right to privacy guaranteed by the Constitution; and

k. To do all other things appropriate or necessary for the effective and efficient discharge of its functions.

If, as enacted, the NIR is responsible for ALL BIOMETRIC IDENTIFICATION in Liberia, then the NIR is a SERVICE BUREAU to EVERY GOVERNMENT AGENCY, INCLUDING THE NEC, having has a need for identification services.

This means all government agencies, including the NEC, would CONTRACT with the NIR to produce the requisite identification instruments.  In practice, the NEC would not be buying its own biometric id system, but instead would contract with the NIR to produce the biometric IDs.

Instead, the NIR exists with little or no funding to carry out its mission. While the NEC cannibalizes the millions of dollars, to execute a function it has no legal authority to perform.

Let me be clear, biometric identification is essential for the growth and economic development of Liberia.  From a technology perspective there must be only one BIOMETRIC REGISTRY for the country.  It borders on theft for the NEC to create and maintain a biometric registry of 3.5 million Liberians, while asking the NIR to create and maintain a biometric registry of 5 million Liberians.

Any biometric identification produced by the NIR should serve as the basis for the NEC’s voter registration (assignment of a voter’s eligibility to vote in a specific location). That is ALL the NEC has to do.  The identification of the voter is the sole responsibility of the NIR.  Any funds used by the NEC for IDENTIFICATION means those funds are not available for the larger NATIONAL FUNCTION of the NIR.

There is no point in having laws, if the legislature refuses to provide oversight for the faithful execution of those laws.