The controversial 60% budget cut for Liberia’s October elections and matters arising

With barely four months to go for the people of Liberia to go to the polls, a cut in the election budget has reignited a new debate in Liberia over whether the Electoral Commission there is ready to supervise free, fair and transparent elections in October.

DUBAWA takes a critical look at the money factor in a yet-to-be-organised election that holds the political destiny of the government and people of Liberia.

The cut

In March this year, the Chairperson of the National Elections Commission (NEC), Madame Davidetta Browne Lansanah, disclosed that the budget for the October 10 General and Presidential Elections was “adjusted by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) from US$91million to US$33million.”

The cut ruffled a few feathers, including that of the United States government, which did not hold back its disappointment. Through its Ambassador, Micheal McCarthy, the US called on the government of Liberia to “provide the Elections Commission with its full 2023 budget, so it has the necessary resources to effectively prepare for and implement all aspects of the electoral process, or risk unfair elections in 2023.”

Impact of the cut

The cut in the budget has significantly affected the operations of the NEC. For instance, the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) which should have been conducted in one phase, was done in two phases. 

The Training of Trainers (TOT), which should have also been conducted for ten days, was done in fewer days, which may likely affect the quality of training. As if that is not enough, there have been huge complaints over the shortages of BVR cards nationwide. 

NEC defence 

Responding to the over sixty per cent (60%) cut in the elections’ budget, the Communication Director of the NEC, Henry Flomo said, 

“The budget was debated and adjusted by the government. The last time I checked, it was adjusted to around US$63 million. Cut-in elections budgets always happen. What the NEC is now doing is strategizing to work in what we have.”

Flomo recommended that the NEC be given financial autonomy to work easily and promptly, void of any adjustments.

“The Commission has a constitutional mandate, which is to conduct elections in time. So, a lot of things will be adjusted as the cash is adjusted. But when we have control over our financial coffers, we can go there anytime to get whatever we want,” he stated.

Flomo, however, urged members of the public not to panic about the credibility of the upcoming elections, saying no part of the electoral process will be compromised. 

“There should be no reason to picnic. The issue of transparency is being upheld by us. That is why we have accredited media people, civil society organisations, party agents, international people and those who want to observe or report on the registration to do so.

“And we have not stopped any of the activity leading to the participation or inclusion of every Liberian who has an interest in the elections. So there’s no way one would say democracy is threatened. Until those things are stopped, then one can say the democracy of the state is threatened,” he added.

When asked if the adjusted money allocated for this year’s elections was sufficient for the conduct of the election, Flomo responded by saying, “My boss has already spoken about that to the House of Senate.”

CSO Reaction

The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) which is a coalition of civic society organisations that observe elections in Liberia, also weighed in on the matter.

Chairperson of the ECC, Oscar Bloh, stated: 

“NEC, in negotiating with the Ministry of Finance, adjusted the budget. They are in the know if the budget reduction is sufficient to conduct the elections. If it wasn’t sufficient, they would have said it; by keeping silent means the money is enough.”

The ECC Chairperson indicated that the elections are constitutionally mandated, and it’s the government’s responsibility to provide resources for successful elections. He added it is constitutionally scheduled, and as such, they (the government) should have planned better.

Oscar Bloh recounted, “The Liberia Revenue Authority on numerous occasions said it had exceeded projected revenue collection. So, the government is in a position to fund these elections. It needs to prioritize these elections by showing its commitment and will because it is required by law.”

He feared the quality of the elections if the required resources are not readily available.

“If resources are slow in coming, it will undermine the quality of the elections. And when the process is compromised, we run the risk of compromising the outcome,” Bloh noted.

But there are other electoral support interventions from foreign nations and organizations to the NEC. The Liberia Electoral Support Project (LEDP) supports the Government of Liberia through the National Elections Commission (NEC) to conduct credible, transparent, inclusive, and peaceful elections just as the United Nations Elections Basket, to name a few.

On July 30, 2021, the Embassy of Sweden in Monrovia, representing the Government of Sweden, signed an agreement with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to contribute approximately USD  4.8 million to the Liberia Electoral Support Project (LESP) for the period from August 1, 2021, to December 31, 2024.

Speaking also to the cut of the budget, the Head of Media and Public Relations of the former ruling Unity Party (UP), Kula Fofana said the cutting of the budget by the Weah-led administration is a planned tactic to compromise the outcome of the elections.

According to Fofana, the election date was constitutionally set a long time ago; as such, the government should have handled proper budgetary planning for the elections to empower the NEC to discharge its constitutional mandate efficiently.

She called on the NEC to raise more awareness about its insufficient elections funds, saying the NEC is not financially positioned to conduct the upcoming Legislative and Presidential elections.

Could it be that due to some of those technical supports given to the NEC, the budget for the upcoming elections received such a huge cut? Or is it just about the routine that the MFDP should cut election budgets almost every time? The world watches as the NEC leads Liberia from scratch to finish during these crucial electioneering times of the country. 

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