MONROVIA, Montserrado – The National Elections Commission has said it will not be possible to conduct senatorial by-elections for Montserrado and Bong within the constitutional time frame.
The constitution requires that NEC hold elections within 90 days of being notified of vacancies in the National Legislature due to inadequate funds. The 2017 elections saw President George Weah’s senatorial seat in Montserrado vacated, while Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor’s Bong senatorial seat also became open. The constitutional deadline will arrive in less than a week.
According NEC’s chairman, Jerome Korkoyah, the commission had earlier summited a budget of US$3.9 million for elections in the two counties, which account for 50 percent of the total registered voters in the country. However, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning said the amount was too high.
Korkoyah said NEC had been in negotiations with representatives from the Finance Ministry and the two Committees on Elections in each house (headed by Sen. Milton Teahjah of Sinoe).
A result of that negotiation was an agreement to cut down some of the activities, Korkoya said, adding that the final amount agreed upon was US$2.7 millon.
He said the government promised to provide US$1.8 millon of the amount, with the expectation that donors would help cover the gap, in addition to providing a little over US$500,000 in materials.
According to the NEC chair, so far the commission has only received US$500,000 from the government, which he said is grossly inadequate to conduct the by-elections.
He added that US$100,000 of the US$500,000 had been used for the nomination process. He added that part of that amount would also be used for procuring the necessary services for the data center, replacing voter cards, as well as conducting assessments at various polling places in the two counties – processes that commence shortly.
He added that US$200,000 of the remaining US$400,000 would go toward election kits although he expressed concern about the willingness of vendors to supply the equipment.
“Different positions and statements that were made when the budget was submitted have made more of our vendors skeptical and [they] do not want to pre-finance any of our election activities. In particular, our international procurement vendors want the money to be available before they can begin pre-financing.”
He noted that the election kits cost little over US$700,000 and that it would take at least 45 days to ship election materials to the country.
Korkoya said NEC lacks the authority to postpone the election without a legislation noting that they have already gone outside of the constitutional time frame.
He said as soon as NEC receives a signal from the government about the remaining funds, we will proceed to the National Legislature to set new date.
“The commission doesn’t have any authority to set another date; we have already gone outside of the constitutional time,” he said. “We have not gotten any commitment from the government as to when the balance money will be placed into the account. When we hear from the government, we will ask for legislation to set new date.”
Korkoyah told reporters that a result of the limited funding is that NEC staff, who would usually set up more decentralized centers to allow voters to replace lost or damaged voting cards will now only provide such service at the magisterial offices in the two counties.
So far, Korkoyah said NEC has received only 12 candidates expressing interest in contesting in the by-election, with five from Bong and seven from Montserrado.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah