Liberia: Neglected World Bank Electronic Voting Machines Raise Credibility Issues in Justice Ja’neh’s Impeachment


Washington – Which Senators voted to impeach Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh – and which did not? In the aftermath of last week’s decision to remove Justice Ja’neh, Senator Prince Y. Johnson (NUDP, Nimba) has claimed that he was among those who was against the impeachment along with Senator Thomas Grupee (Nimba) to keep the Associate Justice on the Supreme Court bench.

Report by Rodney Sieh, [email protected]

Said Senator Johnson: “Tom Grupee and I whose citizen was in trouble definitely could not be the ones to vote against, nobody saw my vote. So, how in the world somebody will come and say to me and Tom Grupee voted against Kabineh Ja’neh?”

Senator Johnson’s declaration has resurrected interest in the status of an electronic voting machine donated by the United States government in a bid to ensure that votes in the national legislature are systematically recorded electronically to avoid the secret balloting system which stirs the kinds of confusion Senator Johnson’s claim is now generating.

The equipment along with a public address system, was donated to the legislature in 2010 by the National Democratic Institute, in a bid to bolster transparency in the legislative branch and also allow the legislature to keep records of how its members voted on particular issues.

A similar machine is used on the floor of the US Congress where votes are compiled through the electronic voting machine by the House Tally Clerks under the direction of the Clerk of the House. In the Senate floor, votes are compiled through the Senate Legislative Information System by the Senate Bill Clerk under the direction of the Secretary of the Senate.

This is the model, the United States, Liberia’s traditional stepfather through NDI had in mind when it donated the machine.

The NDI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization that has supported democratic institutions and practices in every region of the world for more than three decades.

Since its founding in 1983, NDI and its local partners have worked to establish and strengthen political and civic organizations, safeguard elections, and promote citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.

So, what has become of the equipment? “It is no longer working,” according to the staff in office of the Senate Secretary, who spoke to FrontPageAfrica Monday.  “The machine has some technical issues that needs repair and the only people who can do it are from either US or Europe,” the staff, who is not cloth with authority to speak on the matter told FrontPageAfrica.

Senate Secretary Nagbolor Singbe did not return calls seeking inquiry and did not respond to text and email messages seeking clarity on the state of the equipment in the wake of Senator Johnson’s assertions.

Senator Sando B. Johnson (NPP, Bomi) says the lack of the equipment and a proper voting mechanism is a key reason for the confusion over how the Senate voted last week. “If it is true that Senator Prince Johnson and Thomas Grupee voted against the impeachment of Kabineh Ja’neh, then there’s no way Kabineh was impeached,” Senator Sando Johnson said Monday.

The Bomi County Senator who filed a complaint against the voting process after the vote last Friday said he was shocked that the Chief Justice failed to hear the complaint. “That was the letter I wrote and the Chief Justice and he refused to hear. Let him bring all the ballot outside.”

Added Senator Sando Johnson: “I wrote the Chief Justice; we did a complaint; we were three senators. Our complaint was one: Rule 63 was tampered with. We adopted Rule 63 and Rule 63 says, ‘Every Senator going to vote there will be a form to be filled up with their name and must sign it. In the middle of the game” the rule was changed without reverting to them (Senators) to agree on it before the new procedure for voting would have been adopted.”

The Senator took aim at Chief Justice Korkpor following the ruling last Friday for acting “irresponsibly” and called the head of the Judiciary out for refusing to read out his (Johnson’s) dissenting communication as it regards the way senators were supposed to vote in the controversial impeachment proceedings of Justice Ja’neh.

A similar argument was made by Senator Oscar Cooper (Independent, Margibi County) who accused the head of the Senate, Albert Chie of changing the rules of the voting at the eleventh hour and failing to allow Senators to adequately review minutes from the recent proceedings. “It’s in the middle of the game, in the closing arguments yesterday, they said that all the minutes, all the proceedings, the secretary of the senate supposed to give it to the Senators to read through, all the so-called evidence, then your go and read it two, three days then your come deliberate among yourself to come and convince your colleagues to vote. No minutes given, your run in your room. Then you change in the middle of the ninth hour – the impeachment argument that Varney Sherman wrote which was wrong with the voting process.”

The Senator said Section Three of the Senate rules on voting requires Senators to put their names on the ballot and sign but the Pro Temp had changed the rules to favor those pushing for Justice Ja’neh’s impeachment. “They tell you how to vote – your name would be put on the ballot, you vote guilty or not guilty and your signature and your county name. At the end of the day they changed it and said no, some Senators don’t want to be identified because their constituents will know how they voted, so the names should be removed. This is a crucial impeachment proceeding, you change it at the end of the game?” the Senator asked.

For Senator Sando Johnson, said it is difficult to believe whether Senator Prince Johnson is telling the truth or not because of the way the process was handled. “Pro Temp Albert Chie printed the ballot paper by himself and when he brought the ballot box to the rest of the Senators, the box was not sealed. We told him to tally the votes the same day but he refused. He took the ballot box to his house, counted the ballots there in secrecy and brought it out to the rest of us the next day. He did not open the ballot in the presence of other Senators. The rule we adopted was that there would be counting at end of every voting day.”

The secret balloting system is causing major confusion in the Senate with many preferring to vote in secrecy so that their constituency cannot know how they voted.

This is why a handful of Senators are now stressing the importance of the electronic voting machine donated by the NDI.

This has led to the absence of voting records on key bills on the floor of the legislature.

Both the offices of the Speaker and the Senate have declined inquiries to address the issue, settling instead for an archaic head count voting system plagued with multiple problems and prone to criticisms and corruption.

The lack of a clear voting record on sitting members of the legislature and how they voted on the issues poses serious challenges to constituents who are often kept in the dark about the activities of their representatives in the legislature.

In addition to the recent impeachment vote, constituents were also kept in the dark recently about how their legislators voted on a number of issues, including the vote to amend the revenue code to increase excise tax on phone calls by US$0.01 per minute and increase excise tax rate on alcoholic beverages from 35 percent to 45 percent and tobacco from 35 percent to 80 percent.

Legislative observers are unsure why the Senate Pro Temp and the Speaker of the House are not making the electronic system provided by NDI a priority amid criticisms and accusations of corruption dogging the legislative branch of government.

In September 2009, the legislature, along with the National Democratic Institute, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, Konrad Adenaeur Foundation, ECOWAS, AU, UNDP and UNMIL developed a modernization plan for the Liberian legislature to be implemented between 2009 and 2013.

The document was unanimously endorsed both Houses of the 52nd Legislature and signed by then Speaker Alex Tyler and President Pro Tempore Cletus Wortorson.

It outlined programs the legislature would support for modernization, which included the installation of vote recording and public address systems in all chambers, as well as improved policies to enhance openness and efficiency in the legislature.

Contrary to claims made by the office of the Senate Secretary, FrontPageAfrica has learned that the issues with the electronic voting machine is not as bad as what is being projected.

The IT Department at the Legislature insists that electronic systems in the chambers are still very functional, adding that the software operating the system only needs the electronic card to be inserted in the system to register each lawmaker present in session and the county the lawmaker is from. It works the same for the voting system they, said.

According to McCarty Weh said the equipment were donated to the Senate by a friend of Former Pro-Tempore Cletus Wortorson in 2008 and when the House of Representatives saw the need, they made a request to NDI who  accepted and implemented under one of its World Bank projects. Senator Johnson now faces embarrassment of accusations that he voted against his Justice Ja’neh after terming the entire impeachment trial and politically motivated and lacking constitutional grounds. However, this embarrassment would have been avoided if the electronic machines were used.