MONROVIA – As uncertainties continue to hang on whether the plan by the National Elections Commission (NEC) to use the biometric technology in next year’s general elections or not with the objection being raised by the Public Procurement and Contract Commission (PPCC), information emerging from our investigation revealed that a very powerful cartel headed by a Liberian (name withheld for now) who formerly worked as one of the top officials at the NEC and presently working with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in Nairobi, Kenya is desperately behind all the moves to stop the preferred joint-venture bidder of the biometric contract, EKEMP, INITS and Palm Insurance, from being awarded the contract and using the PPCC to fight their dirty war under the spurious banner of due diligence and transparency.
Our reliable source confirmed that the Liberian cartel leader who is said to have left his job in Kenya is presently in the country holding meetings with relevant government officials to influence decision in favor of a company known as ESI, where he is said to hold substantial interest, having also used with contact with IFES in Gambia to influence decisions with some Gambian officials to secure contract with the Gambia Electoral Commission (GEC) at the time of the country’s voter registration. ESI was reported to have practically held GEC hostage when it demanded more money to complete the job that was never agreed upon.
Beyond maneuvering its way to get the contract at all cost, the desperation of the cartel may provoke a serious diplomatic row between Liberia and China as the group has gone ahead to blackmail one of the partners in the Joint venture that was penciled down by NEC, EKEMP and indirectly China, claiming insecurity of the data that would be gathered from the voter registration process by the EKEMP joint venture, which industry watchers and other pundits believed are unfounded as China has no interest in using Liberia’s voter record for any other purpose. Besides, EKEMP JV has absolute confidence in the biometric solutions it has delivered in other countries and election management bodies it has worked for and values and upholds these internationally recognized cyber security standards.
“China has done so much for Liberia and is in a close continuing working relationship with the government. The report that China’s presence in the NEC procurement process could create insecurity of the voters’ data might also generate a diplomatic row and cause the Liberian government to lose much tangible support to the country given by China”, a retired Liberian diplomat who was very furious when asked to weigh in on the blackmail being pursued against China said.
As if it is not enough, the cartel’s tactics to use PPCC, a government institution to denigrate a qualified and professional Nigerian company could claim the interest of the Nigerian Embassy near Monrovia. Nigeria was in the forefront of the search for peace in Liberia during the country’s brutal civil war, losing a number of their soldiers and committing huge financial and material resources to the process. Pundits say it will be disheartening to the Nigerian government if any of the institutions of the government of Liberia will want to impugn the reputation of any of its citizens or interests for any reasons.
“Besides, the Nigerian company (INITS) recommended by the National Elections Commission has the expertise in biometric solutions, thus proving records of delivering on their commitments. With that being said, why should a Nigerian company not be given the opportunity to bid for contracts in an international bidding process? Nigerians could be Concerned about the short-sightedness, in these unfounded and unfortunate denigrations of the Nigeria-Liberia bond, which runs very deep, more than any other relationship in Sub-Saharan Africa”, Tweentey Swen II, a public policy analyst told our reporter on early this week.
Despite the perceived interest in the transaction, the Chairperson and Members of the Board of Commissioners in a recent meeting with the UN and members of the international community have assured that the PPCC directive to reevaluate and redemonstrate the presentations made by the bidders would be conducted.
ESI, Company With Tainted Past
Extensive research conducted by The Analyst has unearthed that ESI, the company being favored by some government officials, is an entity with a tainted past, doing shabby jobs and robbing its clients over the years.
ESI came from obscurity first as CODE Inc to clinch a contract with the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) of Gambia in 1996 and later went bankruptcy; but it however, changed its name to ESI under spurious circumstances. It competed with other companies, Dermalog, a German company, Ekemp International, a Chinese company and Smart Business Group, a Gambian owned company in 2020 under non-complaint procedures with the BVR project with IEC Gambia 3 times, but each time there were many problems and it did not do well.
Our investigation further reviewed that IEC Gambia, due to the poor execution of the contract by ESI, has reportedly decided to ignore the advice of the Gambia Public Procurement Authority to even contract a Canadian company with the supply of electoral materials and issuance of the country’s voters cards.
The Citizens’ Alliance, one of the political parties in Gambia, has alleged the reason behind the recent postponement of voter registration exercise was because the IEC wants to single source the contract for the supply of voter materials. Addressing its monthly press briefing on current issues, CA’s presidential candidate, Dr, Ismaila Ceesay, further stated: “Based on our investigations, the IEC wanted to single source the procurement process. They did the same thing in 2011 and 2016. This year too, they want to do the same single sourcing, but the Ministry of Finance said it has to go through a tender process.
He said their investigations also revealed that the company that the IEC wants to give the contract to was not the “most qualified”.
“We need some clarifications from the IEC and the GPPA. We understand ESI was not the most qualified company. In fact, they are not the most financially responsive of all the companies that bidded. The same ESI supplied IEC election materials in 2011 and in 2016 under a different company name-Code. They went bankrupt and changed their name to ESI. That should be very clear,” Dr Ceesay alleged. “Based on our findings also, IEC had a very bad experience with this company called Code, so, the question is, why would we want to deal with the same company? We also need to know what [election] materials are we going to get?” Dr Ceesay stated.
WAYMARK INFOTECH, PPCC Own Interest
While PPCC is doing the dirty job to protect the interest of some government officials, The Analyst was able to identify, the special interest of PPCC, which is a South African company, called WAYMARK INFOTECH.
There is little known about Waymark except for BVR job executed in Zambia in 2005, a period of 17 years and technologically speaking, the Biometric enrollment and Verification processes have exponentially evolved, outside of Waymark’s capabilities and expertise, especially as nothing recent or current is reflected or indicated on their website, except their disastrous outing in Guinea in 2012.
Our research on the company came up with the findings that Waymark’s other electoral exercises in Guinea, in 2012 (which is not mentioned on its website because of its profoundly bad and scandalous performance as you will read below) was no less controversial and riddled with allegations of malfeasance, fraud, corruption and indescribable incompetence.
It was further discovered that Waymark’s 2012 electoral registration and verification project in Guinea, from the Guinea Electoral Commission CENI was without public bidding. It is accused of misgivings during this 2012 election in Guinea which led to violent protests and loss of lives and the election being postponed twice.
“We are wondering what is leading the PPCC to prefer that company with an unenviable record of fraud, cheating and rigging which led mass actions from the citizens that provoked bloodshed. We don’t want to repeat our ugly past here”, a public school teacher who did not want to go public in the media.
EKEMP, The Best Option So Far
The Analyst over the few days conducted investigation from many sources where it was discovered that the company has what it takes to execute the project without any hiccups.
While conducting a detailed investigation, this paper was able to discover that EKEMP and INITS have both been conducting elections for many years across Africa and outside Africa, while Palm Insurance is a local company and partner here in Liberia to provide on-the-ground, hands-on local support and project management.
From all indications EKEMP and INITS Limited, evidently, are well-established companies when it comes to election technology. The EKEMP JV included in their profile information on the biometric projects they have done for elections in different countries in Africa, including Nigeria, Namibia, Swaziland, Kenya, and Guinea Bissau. Nigeria is the biggest across Africa – over 90 million voters at the last count of the NEC in Nigeria. The EKEMP JV has provided the latest custom made hardware, just like we need in Liberia, and Software for Biometric Registration, the printing of cards, and authentication of voters on election day – all of what Liberia needs as a country.
EKEMP is an original equipment manufacturer, meaning they manufacture things like tablets, biometric terminals, access control, and other hardware. From their website, they focus on Digital Biometric Security Identification, with fingerprint, iris (eyes), and face recognition. EKEMP is a global OEM/ODM (Original Equipment Manufacturer/Original Device Manufacturer), it manufactures biometric equipment and devices for companies in USA, CANADA, EUROPE and ASIA. We have researched and found out that EKEMP International Limited features the FBI and FCC-certified product list.
Our sources at the NEC confirmed that EKEMP showed and demonstrated its capacity, expertise and experience to the satisfaction of NEC during the bid evaluation process at the NEC.
This paper has in its possession, authorizations from Innovatrics (a European Company) to the NEC, and from Magicard Ltd. (a British Company acquired by Brady Inc., a US Company in 2021) to the NEC.
Innovatrics, a direct service provider (amongst the top 3 globally, in providing biometric de-duplication and facial recognition software) confirms that it will be providing the Biometric de-duplication and Facial recognition software for NEC BVR. Our research shows that USA National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency with a wide range of metrics for biometrics algorithms, has ranked Innovatrics Top for many of the metrics.
Our check with Magicard Ltd. confirmed that the security features on NEC BVR will be provided by Magicard Ltd, a European (UK) company and a direct service provider – manufacturer. Just last year, 2021, Magicard Limited was acquired by Brady Corporation, an American Company. Technically, therefore, the printers and security features for NEC BVR will be provided by an American Company. It is the Magicard printer memory chip that will store and print the customized watermark security features on the card.
EKEMP JV will use Magicard printer which supports unique technology with PCT certified IP, Holokote, customized watermark and generates the encrypted QR codes on the cards.
All Servers, Licenses and subscription for the NEC BVR project will come from the USA (Lenovo) as evident in EKEMP JV’s bid submission, our source tells us. At present, none of the other competitors can provide advanced solutions, in line with the actual situation in Liberia or they, evidently, have no solutions at all.
It was discovered by the paper that one of the bidding companies (HID/PSI) relies on EKEMP for implementation. (HID/PSI) mentioned EKEMP in its bid as its ODM/OEM (original Device Manufacturer/original Equipment Manufacturer). All the other bidding companies’ technologies are relatively old, and not state of the art, and in any case, all hardware for this project will be manufactured in China. It takes less time and costs less for EKEMP (a Chinese OEM/ODM) and its Joint Venture to directly implement the NEC Biometric Voter Registration (BVR). EKEMP and INITS are experienced in hardware and software, respectively. They have experience in large- and small-scale projects. They are sure to complete the NEC BVR project successfully.
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