A MAJOR WATERSHED on the journey to the crucial 2023 general elections was recorded on Monday, April 17, 2023 when the National Elections Commission (NEC) released the outcome of the just concluded phase one of the Biometric Voters Registration Exercise in 6 of the 15 political divisions of the country with the total number of eligible voters put at 1,435,209.
NO DOUBT THIS exercise did not come so easily as it was characterized by a lot of challenges which included not limited to lack of adequate funding, limited time to train ad hoc staff, the technology being strange to the country, some technical problems that delayed the process, etc. Be as it may, the challenges were not enough to defeat the purpose of the exercise as the results as reported by NEC showed that a lot of Liberians came out to get registered, obtained their voter cards and are set to use same to cast their ballots for their preferred choices as guaranteed by the constitution of Liberia.
WE WISH TO commend NEC, the government of Liberia, the development partners, other stakeholders and the entire citizens for the successes recorded during this process that was doubted by some other persons mainly on the ground that the country was not ready for biometric technology and other challenges that could impede the exercise. Fortunately, the exercise was held and went beyond the expectation of some people who had thought otherwise and the outcome has demonstrated that the decision to migrate from the OMR to BVR in order to have a credible election that will meet the international best practice.
WHILE GRADING THE result of the phase on a positive note, it is also important to give our honest advice and caution NEC to take a deeper look at the challenges that were experienced and take corrective measures so as the final outcome will be accepted and respected moving forward. In this regard it is very important to first make NEC and all those involved in the exercise that there is every reason to believe that there could be more challenges ahead than experienced in the first phase and the reasons could be ample.
IN THE FIRST PLACE, the last lap of the exercise will be held in 9 counties unlike the first where we had 6 counties which were even closer to Montserrado County and could be easily accessible. Besides Bong and a greater part of Nimba County, the rest of the other counties represent the most inaccessible parts of the country. Road connectivity remains the most outstanding handicap that impedes mobility in those counties and may definitely affect the movement of NEC staff and frustrate deployment of personnel, equipment and logistics.
SECONDLY, AS DIFFICULT as it could be to reach those areas, the same number of 21 days allotted in the phase 1 for 6 counties that have better accessibility were the same number of days also given to the rest 9 counties with difficulties to access. Curiously enough, these counties constitute some of the most populated counties in the country.
THE ABOVE ARE just two of the observations NEC and others could take into consideration in addition to the lessons learnt in the first phase if an overall success rate will be recorded.
AS A WAY of reviewing what occurred during the first phase and proffering a way forward, we wish to identify some of the challenges which bordered on the number of malfunctions of the machines, less time to train adhoc staff and above all the open trucking of registrants to places where most of them do not have any link which to some extent provoke acts of violence in some of the areas.
NEC NEEDS TO step up its game to address the technical issues right on to avoid any unforeseen problems in the remaining counties where we have already discussed as areas most challenging to work owing to mobility and environmental settings. That means the company contracted to do the registration needs to address the issues surrounding the functionalities of their machines which should also include providing proper training for the adhoc so as to beat off the adverse experience during the first phase.
THE NEXT ISSUE and which should also claim the attention of the security agencies including the immigration and the police is the wave of trucking of registrants to places where they have no link but a process to give some desperate politicians undue advantage.
WHILE THERE MAY not be an existing law that makes trucking an offence and punishable under our laws, we believe measures should be put in place to discourage or minimize this obvious menace to holding a free and fair election that the country deserves. It has a serious security implication if it is not put under control.
WE SAW HOW District 10, Montserrado County became sites of violence occurrences during the phase one exercise when some local residents decided to resist the participation of some persons suspected to be non-residents of the communities within the district. It took the vigilance of security personnel, especially members of the Liberia National Police (LNP) to avert the situations degenerating into full scale crises.
IN ADDITION TO this, there were reports of some desperate politicians intimidating adhoc staff in rural areas where security presence is almost zero. These acts are enough to put fear in the minds of the ad hoc staff during registration exercises and even may be so during the proper election when there is no proper security put in place.
WE BELIEVE HAVING flagged off some of these challenges, NEC and its partners will seize the moment to quickly devise means to address the issues as the second and final phase of the BVR takes off in the remaining counties where as we stated earlier may pose more difficulties to achieving a resounding result in the premise.
THE 2023 ELECTION will be crucial and taking measures to solve some of the problems that may derail or frustrate having a correct registration that will produce a credible voters’ register should be of paramount concern for every stakeholder in the process. We hope NEC will listen and take heed.