5 March 2014

Liberia: NEC Boss Admits to Wrongdoing

The Plenary of the House of Representatives has fined the Chairman and Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission (NEC) the amount of LD$4999 for gross disrespect to that august body. Plenary is the highest decision making body of the House of Representatives.

The lawmakers took the decision on Tuesday, March 4, 2014 during the 14th day sitting of the Third Session.

The latest decision taken by the lawmakers stemmed from the appearance of the NEC Chairman, Cllr. Jerome George Kokoya and the Board of Commissioners before the Plenary of the lower house.

Cllr. Kokoya and the Board of Commissioners of the NEC were summoned on Thursday, February 27, 2014 along with the Executive Director of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) as a result of a communication addressed to Plenary by the Chairman of the House Committee on Public Accounts and Expenditure, Representative James Biney.

In his communication, the Maryland County District # 1 lawmaker said the NEC must be invited to clarify why an unofficial contract was entered into by the commission and the Efficient Logistic Services for vehicles rental services.

The contract signed between the commission and the company is reported to be in the tone of US$1, 909,876. 50.

Rep. Biney stated that the NEC entered into an agreement with the company for the period of 45 days for 200 vehicles, to conduct the ongoing Voter Roll Update (VRU) exercise for the ensuing October 14, 2014 Special Mid-Term Senatorial Election.

According to him, the contract was submitted to the PPCC by the NEC.

Quoting the PPCC response to the NEC in a communication dated January 15, 2014, Rep. Biney pointed out that the PPCC advised the commission that the amount earmarked for the vehicles rental and lease services for the VRU exercise was very "costly, considering that portion of said amount could have been allocated towards the purchase of new vehicles for the NEC."

The lawmakers took the decision to fine the NEC officials following a motion filed by Montserrado County district # 9 Rep. Munah Pelhum-Youngblood after Cllr. Kokoya admitted to wrong doing.

The lawmakers also requested that the amount be paid into the coffers of the Liberian government, the NEC publish an apology letter in four (4) local dailies and also extend same to the electronic media and submit copies to the office of the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives within the period of 48 hours.

Speaking earlier, the NEC boss explained that the contract signed between Efficient Logistics Services and the commission does not bear the signatures of the Ministers of Justice and Finance, something the lawmakers considered as a violation of the Public Financial Management Laws of Liberia.

Cllr. Kokoya noted that, "the Ministry of Finance notified the PPCC on the amount that we had and that the PPCC should go ahead and approve our procurement plan."

He said the commission acted based upon "urgency and expediency."

He, however, apologized to the lawmakers for a previous defiant communication addressed to that august body.

The NEC Chairman had earlier resisted in his communication that providing detail of the contract signed with Efficient Logistics Services and appearing before the House of Representatives would amount to "undue interference" and "doing so, would also undermine the independence, neutrality and credibility of the NEC."

According to him, the agreement between the NEC and the company was later re-drafted by the Minister of Justice.

Cllr. Kokoya later rescinded his decision and withdrawn his communication, which many of the lawmakers considered "insulting." He also withdrew a petition filed before the Supreme Court of Liberia on the matter.

He distanced the commission from assertions made by the Communication Director of the NEC, Mr. Joey Kennedy on several radio talk shows on the matter adding that, "he (Kennedy) spoke out of mistake and I am sorry about that."

"We have come not to talk long or to challenge the authority of this honorable body. We have come to talk to you from the heart and that's why I like to note here in practical terms. Some of the issues that are connected to this matter require practical solutions; something we did not recognize. We fully recognize the jurisdiction of this honorable body.

We have not received the approval from the Ministries of Finance and Justice. We believe that we still have a contract if you can permit me to explain the circumstances even though it is still pending approval by the Ministry of Finance.

There is lot of circumstances surrounding this situation; it will take time for us to explain. Some of them border on legal technicalities, laws and so forth. But that's not our intent," he stated.

Cllr. Kokoya added: "The NEC and this honorable body perform critical functions in the country. The stability and peace of our society depend on most times, the laws you make that govern this country and for us, the activities of the NEC.

You know how critical elections are. In conducting a successful election for the peace of our country, there are lots of urgency, situation that may come about. Our election is time-fixed. It was a clear misunderstanding and we withdraw our communication. My apology is sincere."

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