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Liberia ID card issuance bedeviled by challenges, still no headway for biometric voter ID contract

Liberia ID card issuance bedeviled by challenges, still no headway for biometric voter ID contract
 

At a time when Liberia is still struggling to find a definitive solution to a lingering biometric voter ID contract award saga, the issuance of the national ID card in the West African country has also reportedly hit the rocks.

News portal Front Page Africa reports that the enrollment for the national ID card and printing of the same have been momentarily halted due to financial and technical problems.

The National Identification Registry (NIR) is the body overseeing the ID issuance process in Liberia. It is said to be turning away people visiting its offices to pick up their cards.

According to Front Page Africa, Technobrain, the company hired to print the national ID cards, stopped the printing process over debts of slightly over US$1 million owed by the Liberian government.

Tiah Nagbe, executive director of the NIR, when contacted by Front Page Africa, admitted there were financial obligations to the company but explained that the problems were not only monetary.

He said that while the enrollment for the national ID has been halted, there was some form of registration available for farmers in some parts of the country. Nonetheless, he said it was a complicated situation as the ID card issuance system is not operating at full capacity.

“The situation is more complicated. What I can say is that the National ID system is temporarily not operating at its full capacity, but there are some operations we are still undertaking,” said the official.

NEC further nailed over biometric voter ID contract

As the controversy over tenders for a biometric voter contract continues, the National Elections Commission (NEC) keeps receiving more bashing from various stakeholders in the country, including the media.

In a commentary, Front Page Africa argues that the NEC has no legal authority to manage biometric registration, which according to existing legislation, is a prerogative of the National Identification Registry.

In fact, according to the creating Act of the NIR, the body should have responsibility to establish or acquire the technical infrastructure that will constitute the platform for implementing the National Biometric Identification System (NBIS).

This, according to the author, implies that there should only be one biometric registry in the country on which the NEC should build its voter roll rather than seeking to establish its own biometric database in a process that has sparked so much controversy.

Meanwhile, in an editorial, Global News Network Liberia also raises worries concerning data privacy over plans to award the biometric voter ID contract to a foreign company, at the fore of which is China’s Ekemp.

The author commends NEC for introducing biometrics in the electoral process but insists that sufficient safeguards must be put in place to ensure that the biometric data collected during the process remains in safe hands.

Instead of awarding the contract to a Chinese company, doing so to a local company would be more practical, as there will be easier control and follow-up procedures in case of any data privacy or safety issues.

These criticisms follow a string of controversies that rocked the process of choosing a contractor to produce biometric voter IDs and supply other biometric election equipment in preparation for Liberia’s general elections in 2023.

The NEC has been pushing for the contract to be awarded to Ekemp. Still, there is a corresponding pushback from other government agencies and institutions, such as the Public Procurements and Concessions Commission (PPCC) as well as the Senate, which want the bidding process redone to ensure transparency and accountability.

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