MONROVIA – The possibility of conducting next year’s elections through the proposed biometric technology by the National Elections Commission(NEC) may not be feasible as the Liberian Senate yesterday raised some serious concerns about flagging the project for the first time in Liberia and took a decision to invite the electoral body, the Public Procurement and Contract Commission(PPCC), the Election Coordinating Committee and other stakeholders in the electoral process in the country for Friday, September 15, 2022 in the Chambers of the Senate.
Senator Jonathan Boye Charles Sogbie of River Gee County who raised the issue in plenary had earlier written to his colleagues to express what he called “the impossibility” of using the biometric technology being proffered by the electoral body citing infrastructural impediments, lack of awareness and the “abnormal” way NEC chose its preferred vendor of the technology.
“Mr. Presiding, I have earlier written to this honorable body about the decision of the National Election Commission to conduct the elections next year through biometric technology. Besides, the abnormal way the procurement process was conducted, there are some serious concerns I want to raise and they are centered around the poor state of infrastructure in the country. For places like River Gee County where I come from, most of the villages and towns are not accessible because of lack of roads.
“There is also a lack of electricity in most parts of the country coupled with the rainy seasons that make our roads deplorable to travel on”, Senator Sogbie said.
He was supported by Senator Zoe Emmanuel Pennue of Grand Gedeh County who said there was a need for a proper awareness campaign to be launched to educate the people on the use of the technology as it is going to be the first of its kind in the country.
“We need more awareness on the use of the technology because our people will be using it for the first time if it is accepted. We don’t want a similar thing that happened to the pension scheme that made the public to have a different interpretation of it to happen to this one also. More time is needed to allow our people to know and understand what they are going to use for the first time”, Senator Pennue said.
Pennue also told his colleagues that the two service providers in the country, Lone Star and Orange Liberia have their own challenge of getting their towers reaching to deeper parts of the country which has also affected internet penetration in the country.
Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe of Bomi County, while not only questioning the rationale of NEC using single sourcing to select the vendors, also expressed doubts if the vendors have the capacity both technical and financial to execute the job. He urged his colleagues to invite NEC to explain how they arrived at the decision to choose the reported Chinese company to be the only vendor which violates the PPCC laws for competitive bidding process.
Other Senators who spoke also spoke said that they were taken aback when NEC announced that it was opting for the biometric technology when previous engagements with stakeholders who included some international development partners, such as UNDP, USAID, Irish Aid, Swedish Embassy, et on the 2023 came up with the decision that conducting the elections with the technology was not possible and feasible given several reasons cited including that it requires a minimum of 2 years for awareness and education, lack of trained personnel, the rainy season, poor internet connectivity, vulnerability of roads etc.
Senator Henrique Tokpah of Bong County moved a motion that given the urgency and importance of the topic under discussion, the senate should extend its sitting beyond the scheduled date of ending the special session to take a final decision. The motion was seconded and the house leadership had a short meeting with the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Albert Chie from where it was decided that NEC, PPCC, ECC and other stakeholders should be invited to meet with the senate on Friday, September 15, 2022.
It can be recalled NEC Chairperson Davidetta Browne – Lansanah while announcing the decision of the electoral body to use the biometric technology from the manual Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) said the transitioning has been emphasized in the Commission’s preliminary plans for 2023.
Ahead of the 2023 presidential and legislative elections, she told a press conference in Monrovia Wednesday, 31 August 2022 that prevention of multiple registrations and the promotion of accuracy of the information collected for each registered voter are some advantages of the Biometric Voters Registration (BVR).