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Liberia biometric voter card contract saga continues as Ekemp’s second selection rejected

Liberia biometric voter card contract saga continues as Ekemp’s second selection rejected

There is a new development to the string of events surrounding the choice of contractor to produce biometric voter cards and supply other biometric election materials for Liberians ahead of the country’s 2023 general elections.

According to a report by Daily Observer, the second selection of Ekemp by the National Elections Commission (NEC), as the preferred contractor for the job, has again been rejected by the Public Procurements and Concessions Commission (PPCC).

This comes as a blow to the NEC which had re-selected Ekemp after the PPCC and a review panel called for a bid do-over. Part of the reason for the repeat exercise was that Ekemp, a China-based company, had failed a live demonstration of its biometric technology as it was unable to print a biometric voter card within a specific time. Ekemp had claimed the test was unfair as it was asked to do other tasks in the allotted time.

In addition to the demo failure, the PPCC had rejected Ekemp’s first selection  on grounds that the company lacked the capacity to deliver the results per specifications in the bid document.

Ekemp filed a write of prohibition with Liberia’s Supreme Court in protest against its bid rejection. The situation also attracted reactions from the Chinese and United States embassies in Monrovia.

In the meantime, the Daily Observer writes that the PPCC decision rejecting Ekemp’s re-selection has not been officially communicated, but it quotes an anonymous source as saying that the development comes as an upset to the NEC chairperson Davidetta Browne Lansanah who is accused of pushing ahead the Ekemp bid without full approval of the board of NEC commissioners.

The publication quotes its source as further accusing the NEC chairperson of not meaning well for Liberia, and of trying to push the Ekemp bid with just a few commissioners who are said to be loyal to her.

Ekemp is bidding for the biometric voter card production contract jointly with INITS and Palm Insurance – Nigerian and Liberian respectively.

The back and forth over the biometric voter registration contract is said to be worrisome as voter registration in the west African country is scheduled to begin in December, 2022, notes the Daily Observer.

Meanwhile, in a related report, Front Page Africa (FPA) quotes the PPCC as telling the NEC that going ahead with Ekemp as a choice, despite the noticeable shortcomings, means huge risk for a country that intends to use biometric voter registration in national elections for the first time.

“That ignoring the malfunctioning and failure in a biometric equipment functionality to readily print the PVC card, on the spot as required is a major anomaly, and as such the NEC should not have deemed Ekemp as the most responsive company for this contract package,” FPA quotes the PPCC as warning.

In further coverage of the issue in the Daily Observer, PPCC Executive Director, Attorney Jargbe Kowosaid in a reply to the NEC request: “That a material failure in the functionality of a bidder’s biometric equipment that is required to print a registrant voter card on spot, must be taken into serious consideration by the NEC, the State’s Elections Management Body; for such could be a Potential High Risk for the upcoming First Biometric Voter Registration Exercise for Liberia, that is covering the country in its entirety.”

This biometric voter registration card contract is not the first instance in which the NEC chairperson has been embroiled in controversy over contract issues.

Lansanah Browne was at the center of a lingering controversy that involved the renting of 20 fever detection thermometers at exorbitantly high rates, and under circumstances that breached PPCC contract award prescriptions.

It remains to be seen what actions this latest twist to the saga will spark.

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