As the countdown to the 2017 national elections inches closer, Liberians are watching with eagle eyes the conduct of the National Elections Commission, especially as upcoming election would signal a postwar precedent for the once-troubled West African nation to manage its own legislative and presidential elections. Capitol Times Newspaper (CTN) had a chitchat with Atty.Nathan P. Garbie, Deputy Executive Director for Programmes of the National Elections Commission to ascertain the Commission’s level of preparedness, among other issues.
CTN: Where do we stand when comes to the electoral process in 2017?
ATTY GARBIE: We can simply say we are still on course with the election process; but we all need to know what the general condition of our country looks like specifically when it comes to the economic condition of our country including the resources needed for urgent work. Which is not only the elections work as it concerns the development within the country.
CTN: You sound like there is a problem here at NEC?
ATTY GARBIE: Am saying NEC is not divorced from the general problems within the country but we are on course. This is the most important thing as we have not gotten the full fledge support which we need to proceed; but at least, we are getting the necessary support from the Government, and so, we are proceeding with the hope that everything will come on time to conduct this elections.
CTN: What is the status of the civic and voter registration?
ATY GARBIE: The status is that we are starting from February first and end on March 7, 2017. All the necessary preparations required are underway. We have recruited the necessary mobilizers; that is the voter and civil educators. We also have gender mobilizers that have been recruited and they will soon be deplored. We are also producing all the information materials which are required in order to deploy in the field. The materials for the process have started arriving and so we think we are getting there. It means we are on course,
CTN: Do you foresee any impediment in the process ahead of the civic and voters registration?
ATTY GARBIE: Basically I don’t foresee many impediments except for time. As you know, time is nobody’s friend; especially when it comes to implementation of any project for that matter. So time is our enemy in this proceeding and so we are doing everything possible to ensure that we overcome it. Because presently, for example, we have the Geo Information System Expert (GISE) in the field trying to map out all of our precincts to produce the maps because we are supposed to establish 300 hundred new precincts across the country. We are working that out. The expert will have to come back from the field and produce the Map, and then we can inform the public about the location of the new centers so that other people cannot complain about not knowing the locations of the new precincts for registration.
CTN: How many voters do you expect to be registered for the 2017 elections?
ATTY GARBIE: We are assuming by population analysis from the Liberia Geo Information Services (LIGIS) that those that have reached the ages of 18 years and above will be in the total of 2.5 million people that are targeted by law because when you are 18 years and above then of course you are eligible to vote. Therefore, that is the number that NEC is targeting and we hope that all of them will be ready to turnout and get ready to register for the 2017 elections.
CTN: Let us look at the road conditions in the southeastern region and other parts of the Country; don’t you think areas that are inaccessible could impede the work of the NEC?
ATTY GARBIE: That is the general condition of the country, but election is compulsory. It has to cover the length and breadth of the country and our centers are spread out. Whether you are in an accessible area or not, we have the burden of tramping there, taking all of our materials there to make sure those within the vicinity have the opportunity to register. Recently you heard that we brought in some 23 vehicles including brand new pickups which are capable of moving across the country, while at the same time international partners, including UNMIL, are making some efforts. We expect to receive some new vehicles soon. In short, we will get there and make sure that those in these areas will have the opportunity to register.
CTN: How many registrars have been earmarked to conduct civic and voter registrations, and what are their qualifications?
ATTY GARBIE: In the past we had 1,780 registration centers, and I told you earlier that we will be constructing additional 300; so if you do the math, the centers will amount to 2,080. That is where registrations will take place. Each center will be manned by four persons, out of which one person who will be doing the writing is the registrar. So we will be having 2,080 registrars, besides other staff who will be there to do shading because we capture the data on shading sheets that will be brought to headquarters for scanning. Others will be there to operate the cameras, and so on. Our best bet is to recruit people with at least college degrees, who are qualified for the job, because we don’t any mistake to occur. The registrar will also be the most senior person, making sure that all of the details and supervision of the centers are attended to. Obviously, the registrar must obtain a college degree. But again, based on experience, most people who have worked with us before will be considered
CTN: During the launch of the voter registration, it was observed that many political parties did not grace the occasion. What was the cause?
ATTY GARBIE: I think as actors in the process, we need to encourage each other. The political parties were called to a meeting where we were supposed to provide them update about the process. One of the issues which was discussed in that meeting was their participation in the launch of the civic and voter registration so their people can know them. But it was only the ALP partisans that participated in the process wearing their own T-shirts. But then they asked to wear our NEC T-shirts. We refused because it will look like the ALP was part of NEC. In a nutshell, we still have more work to do. The political parties need to come and work with us.
CTN: Finally sir, there have been rumors that the 2017 voter registration will be marked biometrically. How true is that information?
ATTY GARBIE: Election is about planning. Sometimes those who don’t understand think electioneering is about the day people stand on line to vote. But it is done on a professional level, sometimes it takes 18 months to plan towards the election. And so, we were planning to use the biometric formula, but again the general condition of our country will not permit us using the biometric system, rather we will use the usual method of capturing the data. And that is why we will be using the auto call marked recognition system that we used before.