The newly appointed Chargé d’Affaires of the United States Embassy in Monrovia Catherine Rodriguez has reaffirmed the United States and the international community’s commitment to monitor Liberia’s crucial presidential and Legislative elections slated for October 10.
In her first press roundtable with the Liberian media since her arrival, Ms. Rodriquez, said election is a solemn responsibility, and as such, it is important that the government ensure that these elections are fair, free, and peaceful elections, and to hold accountable those that would attempt to disrupt it.
“The eyes of the world are focused on these elections and how they are managed. The United States, as a longstanding partner of Liberia, along with the international community, has been working closely with the NEC to make sure that all election observers have full access to polling stations during election day, as well as access to the vote tallying. The U.S. Embassy through USAID is directly supporting both international and domestic election observer missions, as well as our own mission observing the election process across the country,” Ms. Rodriquez said.
This year’s elections marked the fourth straight presidential poll since the end of Liberia’s 14-year civil war which ended two decades ago. The first, held in 2005, saw the election of Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, followed by her re-election in 2011. The third took place in 2017 and ushered in soccer legend George Manneh Weah.
However, unlike the last three elections, this year’s general election would be the first to be conducted entirely by Liberia’s National Elections Commission (NEC) and safeguarded solely by the Liberian National Police (LNP), following the drawdown of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). In addition, the elections are solely being sponsored by the Liberian Government.
However, while NEC has executed most of its responsibilities leading to the October 10 polls, its preparedness to conduct the polls and also a possible run-off continues to come under scrutiny.
Recently, NEC Chairperson, Davidetta Brown Lansannah, appearing before the Liberian Senate, announced an insufficient budget for a possible runoff election in the upcoming Presidential and General elections scheduled for October 10, 2023. The shortfall, she said, resulted from the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning providing US$3 million less than the NEC’s required budget.
Madam Brown-Lansannah, emphasized that a runoff election could only proceed if the Ministry of Finance disburses the remaining $3.2 million. She informed the Senate members that, to date, the Ministry had remitted slightly over $49 million of the $53 million budget approved by the legislature. She also revealed that ballot papers were in the process of being printed and would soon arrive in the country.
Addressing the Liberian media, Miss Rodriquez, also urged the government to invest an adequate level of money, personnel, and organizational resources to protect its citizens, candidates, polling stations, and election workers from intimidation or harm.
Sanctions Await Violators
Chargé d’ Affaires Rodriquez also warned that the United States is also prepared to assist in efforts to keep these elections free, fair, and peaceful by holding accountable anyone responsible for engaging in activities to undermine the democratic election process in Liberia through additional measures such as sanctions.
Her warning comes as supporters of two leading political parties, the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the Unity Party (UP), were involved in violent clashes. In Nimba, a violent confrontation left one person dead and several injured, with both sides blaming each other. Prior to the Nimba’s incident, supporters of the CDC and UP were also entangled in a violent brawl that left several people injured from both sides. Again, no one claim responsibility. The Government has not held anyone accountable.
Her warning also comes as the United States slapped some officials in Sierra Leone with travel restrictions for their alleged involvement in undermining democracy in Sierra Leone during the recent election.
Peace Corps Return
On a lighter note, the U.S. diplomat hailed the return of the Peace Corps to Liberia. Recently, 12 Peace Corps volunteers were sworn induring a ceremony at Monrovia City Hall. They will be working in the education and health sectorsduring their service.
Ms. Rodriguez expressed her enthusiasm for the volunteers’ return, highlighting that they are the first group to come back after a global evacuation of Peace Corps volunteers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Peace Corps has beenin Liberia since 1962, the year after Peace Corps began, and it is wonderful to have the newestcohort back, on the ground, and working in their communities. Almost everyone I’ve met in Liberiahas mentioned their positive interactions with Peace Corps volunteers. This is a rich history, andone that shows the deep relationship between our countries.”
Ms. Rodriquez replaced Joel Maybury, who had a short stint as Chargé d’ Affaires following the departure of Ambassador Michael McCarthy.
She has already hit the ground running with a visit to the Mount Coffee Hydro Power Plant.
Speaking about the facility, she said the plant is a testament to the enduring relationship between the governments of the United States of America and Liberia, adding, Mt. Coffee will serve as a reliable green energy resource as well as a gateway to further electrification of the country -a building block for Liberian sustainability.
Source: Front Page Africa