Liberia: Did The Foreign Ministry Lie on the U.S. Embassy Regarding the Voter ID Specimen; What’s the Motive?

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Liberia: Did The Foreign Ministry Lie on the U.S. Embassy Regarding the Voter ID Specimen; What’s the Motive?
Liberia: Did The Foreign Ministry Lie on the U.S. Embassy Regarding the Voter ID Specimen; What’s the Motive?

Africa-Press – Liberia. The revelation that the U.S. Embassy did not request a specimen of the 2023 Voter ID Card is raising eyebrows in some quarters, especially in the wake of the Elections Commission confirming that it received the extended request for the specimen from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The U.S. Embassy on Monday issued a statement distancing itself from media reports that issued a diplomatic note to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requesting the specimen of the Biometric Voter ID Card for the 2023 elections.

The Embassy wrote in a press statement: “At no point in time did the Embassy send the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Liberia an official Diplomatic Note, or any other communication, with the request to acquire a sample or specimen of the 2023 national voter registration card. We understand that no decision has yet been made on awarding a contract for the biometric system, but that the process is ongoing and, according to the press, the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC) is examining potential contracts.”

In the midst of the denial by the Embassy, the National Elections Commission confirmed to FrontPageAfrica that it received the communication from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requesting a specimen based on the U.S. Embassy’s request.

The August 1, 2022 communication which FrontPageAfrica has obtained reads:

Madam Chairperson:
I present my compliments and wish to inform that the Ministry has received a Diplomatic Note from the Embassy of the United States of America near Monrovia requesting a specimen of the national voter registration card.
The Ministry looks forward to your kind response to said request in order to revert to the Embassy in a timely manner.
With kind regards.
Sincerely,
Thelma E. Duncan Sawyer (Mrs.)
Acting Minister
FrontPageAfrica has not been able to establish whether the specimen has been provided as requested.

When contacted for comments, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could not confirm nor deny the communication as Deputy Minister Sawyer who signed the letter in her capacity as acting minister is currently out of the country.

However, FrontPageAfrica was able to confirm that she was in the country at the time the letter was written.

The motive behind why such a communication would be doctored in the name of the U.S. Embassy is not yet clear. However, there are concerns that whoever is behind the plan could have a bigger plan of duplicating the cards.

There have also been general concerns in the public about the preparedness of the NEC to introduce Biometric Voter ID Cards with just 12 months left for the 2023 general and presidential elections.

Biometric Voter Roll has never been tested in Liberia before.

Following the announcement of the BVR by the NEC, the House of Representatives, acquiescing to Rep. Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis’ request, summoned the Election House before its full Plenary to explain more on the biometric registration process.

Following an hour-long grilling, the House, apparently not convinced with Madam Lansanah and her deputy’s explanation, mandated its Committee on Elections & Inauguration and Contracts & Monopoly to further review the NEC’s decision and advice the body.

Pending the Joint Committee’s report, FrontPageAfrica has gathered that the Committee is expected to snub the NEC’s decision and recommend the cancellation of the biometric voter registration exercise over fears that the country was not fully prepared.

This report, though unverified, reflects the sentiments expressed by majority members of the House in plenary during the appearance of the NEC Chairperson.

The lawmakers raised concerns over the lack of network in most parts of the country, especially in rural Liberia. While they welcome biometric registration, they believe that the country’s electoral system is not yet prepared to absorb it.

Some lawmakers argued that the biometric system has never been tested at the community level or during any of the Country’s recent by-elections and as such, it may not be prudent to use it in forthcoming Presidential & Legislative Elections.

Representative Dennis, who championed the appearance of the NEC’s said introducing the biometric registration in a crucial election was worrisome as it has not been tested before.

She said: “One of my reasons for my hesitancy is that we are introducing something new in a bigger election. We did not pilot this biometric voter registration. We had the Lofa, Bomi, Grand Gedeh, and Nimba by-elections. I thought it would have been prudent to pilot it in the smaller elections before the bigger one; taking into consideration the cultural, social, and legal consequences.”

Despite Madam Lansanah’s assurance that the NEC has put in place all necessary measures to ensure a successful process, the plenary was not convinced to grant approval.

The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC), the largest civil society platform that observes elections in Liberia, in a statement following the NEC’s pronouncement said, it welcomed the use of the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) for the conduct of the 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections, but with caution.

The ECC noted that the technology, if it is set up properly and in a timely manner, can add value to the quality of the electoral process; minimizing double registration, automatic de-duplication fraud and manipulation of the voter roll.

However, it was quick to point out that while it commends the NEC for the transition to BVR, the process is not free of risks, rolling out several recommendations.

“The NEC needs to inform the public which model of the BVR that has been selected and what are the pros and cons associated with its usage. The NEC should inform the public about the profile of the vendor that was selected and its track record in managing a BVR system,” it urged.

It also called on the NEC to inform the public about the total cost of the purchase and installation of the technology in order to assess its efficiency; adding this is against the background that the government has allocated US$20 million in the 2022 national budget.”

It also raised concerns that the voter registration exercise will commence before the completion of the planned national census.

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