US gets involved after Ekemp tip of Liberian biometric voter card contract win
China-based biometrics firm Ekemp allegedly listed the Liberian National Elections Commission (NEC) as one of its clients for biometric voter ID cards on its website, despite a pending approval of the agreement by the country’s Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC).
The China-based company allegedly removed all the logos from its website upon the publication of the FrontPageAfrica original article earlier today, but their presence may be indicative of a wider issue.
In fact, the events have led to suspicion of a compromise between NEC and its chosen company for the supply of materials for the upcoming biometric voter registration.
However, only the latter three companies qualified for the final round, with Laxton being reportedly disqualified for submitting biometric kits with laptops instead of tablets with fingerprint scanners.
The remaining two finalists, HID Global and Ekemp, reportedly presented almost the same biometric kits with tablets and fingerprint scanners, but only the former company satisfied the security feature specification of the bid document.
A pair of parliamentary committees have been tasked with investigating the decision and advising lawmakers. According to FrontPageAfrica, they are expected to recommend the contract, and the biometric registration exercise it was to support, be canceled.
The ‘diplomatic note’ controversy
On the same day of the publication of the original FrontPageAfrica article, the Daily Observer said the U.S. government had sent a diplomatic note to the Liberian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The letter reportedly requested a specimen of the 2023 national voter registration card to enable the U.S. to check the biometric technology first-hand after the Ekemp debacle (and despite the fact the company reportedly failed to meet the requirements of the electoral body’s procurement team).
The U.S. Embassy in Monrovia did not seem to enjoy the speculation, however, and less than 24 hours from the events that characterized the beginning of the controversy released a statement denying having addressed a diplomatic note to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“[We have] seen the reporting on the NEC’s Biometric [Voter Registration] System and would like to correct the record,” reads the press statement.
“At no point in time did the Embassy send the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Liberia an official Diplomatic Note, or any other communication, with the request to acquire a sample or specimen of the 2023 national voter registration card.”
Further, the statement called for the PPCC to “fulfill its mandate of ensuring integrity and transparency in the procurement process so that the Liberian public gets full value for money in the use of public funds.”
Doubling down on the statement, the Daily Observer then published an additional article, according to which Thelma Duncan-Sawyer, Liberia’s deputy minister for Administration at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed the Ministry received the diplomatic note in fulfillment of a request.
The controversy comes amidst a push toward biometric technology for the next general elections (taking place in 2023) in Liberia, which started more than a year ago and recently included the transition from optical mark recognition for secure voter registration to fingerprint biometrics.
For context, this is not the first time NEC has been under public scrutiny in recent months. Chairperson Davidetta Browne Lansanah faced a writ of arrest in January after being indicted for overbilling for renting 20 contactless biometric thermometers last year.