Facial recognition thermometer procurement saga in Liberia continues
The Chairperson of Liberia’s National Elections Commission (NEC) Davidetta Browne Lansanah is facing a writ of arrest after being indicted for wrongdoing in an affair of overbilling for the renting of 20 contactless biometric thermometers last year, Front Page Africa reports.
This comes after the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) found the NEC chair potentially guilty of money laundering, violation of the public service code of conduct and conflict of interest related to the matter, the report adds.
It all started last year when local investigative reports revealed how NEC, under the aegis of its chairperson, rented 22 facial recognition-enabled thermal cameras (elsewhere reported as 20 units) for a total amount of US$182,000.
It turned out that the devices, which were used to screen temperature of voters during four by-elections last November, were rented at exorbitant rates. According to reports, a unit of the contactless thermometers costs at most US$1,300, but each of them was rented for the sum of $9,166.
To even make matters worse, the contract was found to have been awarded irregularly as it was outsourced to an enterprise (Tuma Enterprise) whose owners are reported to be brothers of the NEC Chairperson.
In the wake of these developments, LACC took up the matter for investigation and at the end of it, found the NEC chair complicit.
Per Front Page Africa, LACC, in its report, made a number of recommendations at the close of its investigations, one of which is the sacking of the NEC chair as well as the head of the electoral body’s procurement department.
The LACC chairperson Edward Martin was also quoted by the media as saying the NEC chair admitted having handed the contract to her younger brother, David Browne, without due process for public procurement regulations. He was quoted as also insisting that the NEC chair and the head of the procurement department have to be relieved of their functions because their actions were in contravention of Sections 1 and 3 of the national code of conduct under which all Liberian public officials are subjected.
Recall that when the matter came to the fore, the country’s Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) also said it was not aware of the payments made by the NEC to rent the biometric thermometers.
NEC chair rejects admission of guilt
In a quick response to claims from the LACC chairperson that the NEC boss admitted guilt, the NEC boss come out to make a strong rejection, writes Daily Observer.
Davidetta Browne Lansanah is quoted as saying in a response that she did not admit any guilt during a hearing at the LACC as claimed by the anti-graft agency.
“Following its investigation, the LACC told the public that it has completed its investigation and read out an outcome claiming we had made certain admissions of guilt during our appearance before the LACC. This is false and misleading. We appeared before the LACC with our legal counsels, submitted the requested documents, along with written statements. At no time during the interviews did any of us ever make any admission of guilt as falsely stated during the December 15 LACC press conference,” the NEC chair was quoted by Daily Observer.
The NEC chair also accused the LACC of giving prejudicial leaks to the media in the course of the investigation. “Never before have such calculative and coordinated leaks been seen in LACC’s investigative history. Please rest assured that we remain a critical role in our system of government to conduct free, fair, and credible elections,” Browne Lansanah added.
NEC chair, election steering committee head bicker
Meanwhile, in the midst of all the facial recognition thermometers controversy, there is also palpable tension between the NEC chair and the head of NEC’s election steering committee Floyd O. Sayor, who has been accused by his boss of unilaterally making additions to the proposed budget for the 2023 elections in the country, according to Front Page Africa.
In a memo cited by the outlet, the NEC boss accuses Sayor of inserting an additional US$2,809,510.00 for a number of items including devices for live monitoring and tracking.
Sayor has rejected the claims, saying the budget line for those items cited by Browne have been part of the budget over the years.
New Dawn Liberia in its own report alleges that Sayor is one of two NEC commissioners positioning themselves to take over the seat of embattled Davidetta Browne Lansanah whose position now appears to be on the line.