By: E. Geedahgar Garsuah
MONROVIA: As captured in the National Elections Commission (NEC) timetable for the conduct of the October 10, 2023, Presidential and Legislative Elections, today, March 20, 2023, is the official date for the commencement of the much-anticipated Bio-metric Voters Registration (BVR) exercise in the country.
Phase-one of the BVR exercise, according to NEC, is to end on April 9, 2023. The first phase of the exercise will begin today, March 20, 2023, with Bomi, Margibi, Grand Bassa, Gbarpolu, Montserrado and Grand Cape Mount Counties.
The final phase of the voter’s registration process will commence from April 21 through May 11, 2023, covering the remaining nine counties, NEC had said.
However, there are lingering doubts on the minds of members of the public as to whether or not the process will have a smooth start today.
These doubts stemmed from recent disclosure by the Chairperson of the National Elections Commission (NEC), Davidetta Browne-Lansanah.
On Thursday, March 9, 2023, the NEC Chairperson appeared before the Plenary of the Liberia Senate and said NEC lacks funding to carry out the BVR exercise.
Moreover, the NEC Chairperson, Browne-Lansanah’s disclosure was greeted by mixed reactions from several spectrums of the Liberian society.
One of several persons who took the central government to task over NEC’s disclosure is the Political Leader of the opposition Liberian People’s Party (LPP), Cllr. Tiawon Saye Gongloe.
Twenty-four hours after NEC’s Chairperson appeared before the Plenary of the Liberian Senate, Cllr. Gongloe, addressing a press conference on Friday, March 10, 2023, termed the reported failure of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) to provide funding for the elections as “unacceptable.”
“Let the government find the money needed by the National Elections Commission to conduct the Legislative and Presidential Elections in Liberia because, we Liberians, want peaceful, transparent, free and fair elections,” the human rights lawyer, turned politician stated.
The LPP Political Leader warned that the government should not create the impression that they do not have money to conduct elections because they printed new banknotes in billions, they carried out US$25 Million Mob-up exercise in Liberia, and therefore, they should have money.
According to Cllr. Gongloe, any attempt to delay or deviate from the October 2023 elections timetable would be tantamount to constitutional violation.
Cllr. Gongloe added that if the October elections are not held in constitutional timeframe due to the lack of finance, incumbent President George Manneh Weah will not hold on to state-power, a minute after his first constitutional term in office is expired.
The apparent skepticisms on the part of stakeholders can be tied to the broad-admission of NEC’s Chairperson, Madam Browne-Lansanah that the BVR process might suffer a delay due to the lack of funding, according to some keen observers.
“We were informed that some four million was being processed, but up to date, there is no funding for the elections process,” NEC’s Chairperson, Davidetta Browne-Lansanah told the Plenary of the Liberian Senate on Thursday, March 9, 2023.
During conversation with the Senate, the NEC boss also informed the Senators that the schedule for the BVR exercise could suffer setback if central government could not make an amount of US$4.5 Million available to complete arrangement for the process to be smoothly carried out.
Despite the revelation of financial deficit to carry out the VR process, as stipulated its timeframe, the NEC boss released the listing of various voters’ registration centers across the country.
NEC’s action, she said, is in keeping with the new elections law of Liberia.
The 1986 Elections law of Liberia, Section 3.2 (a), gives NEC the authority to make public the listing of voters’ registration centers in the period of two weeks ahead of day one of the registration exercise.
In Section 3.1 of the elections law, voters are cautioned to register at the Center in their districts and vote at the center where they were registered.
Madam Browne-Lansanah said the Commission is, at this point of funding deficit, because LAXTON, the company hired to conduct the voter’s registration process, had defaulted on the agreement to pre-finance the process.
Meanwhile, President George Manneh Weah has called on all citizens to take advantage of the Voters Registration Exercise the National Elections Commission (NEC) is about to begin on today, March 20, 2023.
According to an Executive Mansion special press release issued on Thursday, March 16, 2023, Voter’s registration is the only legitimate medium that enables citizens to vote in the Legislative and Presidential Elections in October this year.
“I call on all citizens, 18 years and above, to register in order to be able to vote,” President Weah urged in a special statement issued Thursday, March 16, 2023.
President Weah reminded Liberians that such is an important civic duty they must perform as good citizens.
The President informed citizens that their voter’s cards will allow them to make a decision to have better health care services and education, as well as improved infrastructure.
He said: “The National Elections Commission has said from March 20 to April 9, 2023, citizens of Gbarpolu, Bomi, Cape Mount, Grand Bassa, Margibi and Montserrado Counties will register to vote.”
“And from April 21 to May 11, 2023, the citizens of Bong, Grand Gedeh, Grand Kru, Lofa, Maryland, Nimba, Rivercess, River Gee, and Sinoe Counties will do theirs, he added.
The Liberian Leader challenged each citizen to inform family members, friends, and neighbors age 18 and above about the exercise.