Monday, 4 April 2011


Nat Bayjay,
FPA: Of recent concern is the huge debate and controversy surrounding the holding of the National Referendum for which the NEC continues to come under barrage of criticisms. Why is the sudden decision on National Referendum when you had previously told me during a press conference at your headquarters that it was practically ‘impossible’ to conduct it before the elections?
Chairman Fromayan: No, the decision was not sudden. I must say you’re right that we did say that given time constraint we wouldn’t force ourselves to hold a referendum and conduct elections at the same time. But we were faced with a problem which has to do with the very outcome of the elections because our partners as well as the government said there was no money for massive round-off if the law stands as it is.
They would not be able to make the money available for run-off for the 64 seats in the House-actually it will be 73- as well as the 15 senatorial seats. So, it will be too much money spending. It was against that backdrop that they told us this was not possible.
They wanted us to re-think our decision in view of the fact that money will not be available for the conduct of a run-off involving all of those legislative seats and a presidential run-off. The bitter pills we had to swallow were that it would make no sense to conduct an election if we will not be able to conduct a run-off. Then it will be incomplete because if you conduct an election and no run-off if it arises, then it will make no sense.
This is an election that Liberians are looking forward to and we must undertake this task with all of our abilities. If we’re working eight hours a day, then we have to put in 12 hours a day to make sure we carry the two tasks through. After all that, we resolved that we were able to handle the cost of carrying out the two elections. But as I said, it is with real cost---cost not just in time of finances but the time that it will take from us.”
FPA: Is it politically motivated because there are constitutional concerns and possible violations? Specifically, Article 92 talks about the proposed constitutional amendments being accompanied by statements published in an Official Gazette a year to the referendum. From the date of the referendum coming from the National Legislature in September of last year to August of this year is less than a year.
Chairman Fromayan: Firstly, the Constitution says the time of the election takes effect as of the time the Legislature takes action. The Legislature took action last August.
FPA: Do you mean the time the legislators signed the Joint Resolution or the time they began debating it?
Chairman Fromayan: From the time they agreed, the meeting that they had.
FPA: Was the agreement about the passage?
Chairman Fromayan: It came from them as lawmakers to the President. They took the action for this to be acted upon for a referendum to take place. They took the action in August of 2010 for the referendum to be held. If you read the Constitution, that is what it clearly says and this is different from other laws. Other laws will wait for the printing of them into handbills but this other one has a special time constraint and the Constitution makes mention of it. Other laws are made with no time bound but this has a time constraint to be acted upon in one year. That makes this particular law to be different. The argument is always that we will cheat for the incumbent. How? We have a system in place where commissioners don’t check ballots. If we were checking ballots exclusively and sealed up from the public and journalists and come with the results of who wins this legislative seat or presidential slot, then that would make sense to any reasonable person.”

FPA: Don’t you believe, as others do, that the referendum will be greatly hampered in that you have a huge illiterate population to deal with. Most of them find it even difficult identifying images or pictures, lest to mention being confronted with the wordings ‘YES’ and ‘NO’.
Chairman Fromayan: You’re quite true in terms of the complication association with the four prepositions [of the referendum]. Again, these are the challenges to all of us including you the media. We need to work with civil organizations, religious groups as we have done in the past like some of the strategies that we used during the voters’ registration period. We used variety of groups to create awareness among our people which included senior professional players, student groupings like LINSU, FLY. We need to do this to expand this that a lot of the messages are clearly disseminated. There is massive illiteracy among our people. In order to make them understand that they are not going to see individual faces to vote for, we need to provide more civic education. We already created this through our partners. Unlike the real elections, politicians might not have that vested interest to say they are going to carry on voters’ registration because it is not determined which position they would get. We are happy that the referendum is coming before the elections because if we had done it the other way around, then the turnout for the referendum might have been a lot more difficult. There will be no incentives but since the main elections are at the tail-end, that apathy will not be there.
FPA: Are you aware that some of the politicians and civil actors have already begun calling on Liberians to march against or protest against the conduct of the referendum? All four of the prepositions of the referendum are being criticized with much emphasis on the Chief Justice’s extension from 70 to 75.With the country’s life expectancy not more than 60 years (57 generally, 55 male and 59 for women as updated by the World Index Report’s 2011 report), what is the necessity of this amendment and three others?
Chairman Fromayan: Firstly, I must tell you that a referendum is an election. There got to be people for or against a particular preposition. So, if you’re against, you will campaign against a particular preposition and campaign in favor of the one you support. So, in the final analysis, it is a combination of the two will yield whatever result that will come out. We’re not deterred by that.
To address the preposition on the Chief Justice and Associate Justices’ ages, that did not come from the Elections Commission and it was included as part of the package. The other one that did not come from the NEC is the 10 year residential clause [for president] that is causing controversy. The other two main prepositions that came from us have to do with the absolute majority and the run-off requirements for a candidate to be elected to any public office. We felt that there is an economic burden to them. I have gone around and seen other elections. They don’t have that requirement for other offices besides the presidency. It doesn’t make sense for someone running to be representative gets 48% of the votes and someone will subject to go to a run-off with another candidate because you don’t have 50% plus one of the votes. To go for run-off, it requires two weeks which is much of a work for us here at NEC. That is why we thought we needed a referendum to address this issue.
“It was against that backdrop that they told us this was not possible. They wanted us to re-think our decision in view of the fact that money will not be available for the conduct of a run-off involving all of those legislative seats and a presidential run-off. The bitter pills we had to swallow were that it would make no sense to conduct an election if we will not be able to conduct a run-off. Then it will be incomplete because if you conduct an election and no run-off if it arises, then it will make no sense.”
FPA: That is probably where you will need to do a lot of campaign from a NEC point of view, talking about the two that came from you.
Chairman Fromayan: Well, obviously that serves our own interest and I don’t think anybody has come against with the exception of one or two persons who will talk about retaining that. It has not happened in Guinea. It has not happened in Ghana. Then you will be talking about the traditional chiefs and other electable persons.
FPA: Fear is that a candidate might just win a high percentage in one part of an entire county and low percentage in other parts; for instance, more votes in Foya and not necessarily winning in Voinjama and other districts in Lofa. To represent the people, he or she tells them that his or her votes were gotten in one place and that the others don’t…….
Chairman Fromayan
: Not even a president will win the entire nation but he or she goes on after the elections to be the president of everybody. You’ll now have a responsibility to everybody. That is what makes you a leader. So, your support cannot go in one direction.
FPA: Personally, what is your perception on the residential clause for Liberian presidential candidates? Others feel it is an attempt to prevent others from outside the country from contesting the Presidency.
Chairman Fromayan: I can only speak to the origin of this particular law. Since it is in the referendum, people will decide. Views expressed here are not necessary those of the other commissioners but I’m saying here that this law was inspired by the late President Samuel Doe through the Constitutional Committee at the time aimed at getting at his opponents that he forced into exile to not get involved in the political race. Honestly, it was a bad law because laws are ought to be made to serve the supreme interest of society. But if you see the background to a law, then you will know why it found its way into the Constitution.
FPA: Falling below the projected 2.1 million voters to 1.7 million voters, what are the implications? What do you think went wrong?
Chairman Fromayan: Projections not exact. At the final analysis, we should be contended with what we have. We have 1.7 million which is a remarkable achievement over 2005 [1.3 million in 2005]. So, we can say yes, we did a good piece of job. We couldn’t drag people to register. We had adequate time. In fact, we adjusted the time to one additional week just to make sure that people turn out. Sometimes you went to populated areas like New Kru Town and West Point but always met polling centers empty. This had nothing to do with civic education. But to me, the population that registered is not bad; that is a sizeable number. Let’s just hope during the voting time, they will turn out in mass.
FPA: Available statistics available suggest poor turnouts in succeeding elections. For instance, the 1997 elections had relatively huge turnout of almost 89% of registered voters than the 2005 elections. As a matter of fact, the11 October 2005 First Round had a turnout of 74.9% of registered voters (1,012,673) thought to be impressive. But the 8 November Runoff witnessed a sharp decrease to 61.0% (825,716 of registered voters). Then came the Montserrado County By-election which was dubbed the litmus test for this year’s national elections. The By election was marred by another voters’ apathy. Are there reasons from a NEC point of view responsible for such? Are there possible ways of correcting such because we might witness another seven or eight months from now?
Chairman Fromayan: I must tell you that if you have 60% turnout, that is not bad by world standard. Statistics from countries in the West where they have all the means to educate people and all the resources, their turnouts are not one of the highest. I mean they are very low. In places like Australia, there are incentives to vote where if you don’t vote they penalize you. It’s true that in 2005 the number reduced from 1 million to some 800,000. In by election, the incentives are not much but in presidential election, the heat is there. This time we will have 73 seats up for grasp with 8 to 10 candidates in some cases fighting for one seat because every day we are hearing about aspirants. Then we have 15 other senatorial seats. So, the momentum will be high as compared to one by-election where there is not much at stake. Sometimes, national elections can build its own momentum.
FPA: You complained in the past of NEC being ‘heavily constrained’. What is the total amount that the NEC has to work with for these elections and the National Referendum including that of the US$17.5 million provided by the US Government?
Chairman Fromayan: Whenever we talk about money from donors, we need to be clear because people out there think when you say US$17.5 million from the U.S.; it is given to the Elections Commission directly. No. This is money intended to be spread over electoral circles, over five years and managed by the International Foundations for Electoral System (IFES). Not any of that money from there is controlled by us. We also have our other international partners that are using the Basket Fund that is supervised by the United Nations Development Program, like the EU, Japan and others. The money they bring is put in that Basket Fund and not handled by us--- the bulk of the money for elections. The money that is handled by us is strictly operational-general running, field offices, staffs and others including money for poll workers. We had to pay 7,400 poll workers for this gone registration process provided by the government. Out of a budget of US$49 million, Government’s component is US$18 million and you can subtract to get the remaining which is the Basket Fund I talked about. The rest of it comes from the international community.
FPA: Let’s look at NEC’s credibility and your own personal criticisms of having UP connection. How credible is a Fromoyan led NEC? Will you give in to resigning as being called requested by the opposition Liberty Party and the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC)?
Chairman Fromayan: Well, Nat, I think individuals who will call our credibility into question will have to bring their credentials. I want them to bring credentials in the past and in the present. Let’s match credentials and see who is credible from the past up to now. I had graduated from the University of Liberia [Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 1980 and chose to return to Lofa to contribute. When the school [Voinjama Multilateral High School] thought I was capable, I was called to be the Principal where I managed a school of over 1,000 students. I worked at the Ministry of Education as an acting minister of Education for seven months.
My records are known for what I stood for. The very people who are calling people by names now…some were in their closets when we confronted dictators in this country. It is today easy to criticize somebody because there is nothing that will come after you. If some of them--- like I was thrown behind bars at Belle Yellah where I spent 10 months--- were having a regime of that type like Doe or Charles Taylor then. Some of them were men enough at the time. I have performed to the best of my ability. So, if people are talking, let them bring their own track record of what they have done in the past. So, what is the issue here of credibility?  I have not been sacked in any position that I served in before.  I have served to the best of my ability.

FPA: All of the credentials you mentioned are purely academic to a larger extent but you did not measure the point where you allegedly worked with the incumbent in the past. Some people fear that whatever loyalty you might have had with her in the past might be transferred in favor of her during the outcomes of the elections.
Chairman Fromayan: Again, Nat, these are issues that we have talked about again and again. I never worked for Madame Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf before. We worked with an association called Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia based in Washington, DC when we were in exile in Washington, D.C. headed by Dr. Amos Sawyer. Madame Sirleaf was a board member of that association. We were not actually working for pay for that identical association because I had gone to America to apply for political asylum. 
When you talked about political work in the past, we [Sirleaf and I] collaborated back in Liberia in 1985 prior to the elections when I was founding member of the Liberian People Party---I’ll say this time and again---headed by Dr. Togpa Nah-Tipoteh.
Never worked with Ellen, worked with an association in Washington D.C. headed by Sawyer where Sirleaf was board member. When our party was banned by Mr. Doe prior to the elections, we had options to support other parties that had similar idea that we had. So, we gave our support to the Liberia Action Party at that time. Madame Sirleaf was member of that party and so was Jackson Doe who was the presidential candidate.  I got no regrets for that.  I owe no apology for that because I don’t see how this has anything to do with credibility problem. So, how will that now translate to my chairmanship after I have shown you how the system works? Even if you brought President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s brother or son as chairman, as soon as he ascribes to the procedure laid down there is nothing [he can do to cheat].

Let’s ignore that. Mr. Weah who is one of those always accusing me, my deputy is a blood relative of him. They’re cousins. He himself came here and when we were taking him around to other commissioners’ offices and in David Menyongar’s office and my deputy was there. She [Commissioner Elizabeth Nelson] asked him, “Do you know that we are related, I mean cousins?” And he said “Yes”.
Will they cheat for them? I’m only making this point to say that if a society has a family person does not mean you have the means to cheat for them. The point to underscore here is that there is no way anybody here can help another person here out there who’s in the race.
Or better still, Senator [Blamo] Nelson will be running again. Does that mean that his wife [Commissioner Nelson] who is here should leave because the Senator will be contesting again? She was here before the man ran and won on his own merit. What needs to go in these people’s heads is that they must look at the system. Let’s look back at the 2009 Montserrado County By election. Was it me who made [Senator] Geraldine Doe-Sheriff to win? If I was making the choice exclusively, was she going to be the one that I would choose over Professor Wilson Tarpeh and Clemenecau Urey? I have known Tarpeh. We worked together at the University of Liberia. We’ve known one another from the Liberian People’s Party and more than that he is competent. If for some reason I was the one making that choice---as they want it to appear like----where the Chairman decides who should be, then Commany Wesseh would not have lost election under me. He is like my brother, not biological brother but politically. We went over 30 years together.  Would I have chosen [Senator] Nathaniel Williams over Commany Wesseh if that was the case? This is a man [Wesseh] I have known from 1975. We have been friends from the University of Liberia. He was a student leader and I was an editor for the campus’ newspaper. We worked together in the Student Unification Party. Yet, he lost an election under me. Why doesn’t anybody want to talk about this? You think the presidency is the only place where you want to cheat as a chairman?
Even Professor Dew Mayson is the closest to me. We all ate on the same table together. Does that mean that now he is in the race, I will cheat for him too?
FPA: The issue of how transparent is the electoral process always sparks out. Could you kindly explain why there is no cause for anyone to worry about the transparent nature of ballot counting?
Chairman Fromayan: But that is even beside the point, Nat. We have a situation where nobody makes unilateral decisions. We are seven on the board not because I’m Chairman. I could even be a commissioner and still stand my ground. How can one cheat in a system that we have in place? That should be the fundamental question that those talking about credibility should be asking themselves. The argument is always that we will cheat for the incumbent. How? We have a system in place where commissioners don’t check ballots. If we were checking ballots exclusively and sealed up from the public and journalists and come with the results of who wins this legislative seat or presidential slot, then that would make sense to any reasonable person. But where ballots are taken to the different centers where parties’ agents, independent candidates’ agents and observers are expected to be there, then the ballot boxes are opened before voting and nothing is done in darkness, how can anybody cheat? Everything is done in full view of observers and parties’ agents. At the end of the day, if 500 ballots were there before voting, they will be counted again at the end of the day for including spoiled, used and unused ones which will amount to the same 500. Besides, the winner is announced right there. If John Brown got 250 votes in a particular center, will Fromayan change that? How? That is the fundamental issue that these people need to be asking themselves about.
FPA: A relatively less-hectic Montserrado County Senatorial By-Election proved too hectic for you in November of 2009. The first round was characterized by late opening of polls among others. Compared to the huge task of conducting the national elections, how capable is the NEC?
Chairman Fromayan: The lesson learned from there manifested itself in the second round. Otherwise, it would have been disastrous. As you correctly put it, this is all about learning lessons as you go down the route. But again, within the space of two weeks we were able to go back on the drawing board to put a plan in place that made the second round a success to the extent that some of our harshest critics to keep quite. The sincere ones admitted that we did well the second round. That is how it is ought to be. So, we learned that lesson. It’s a lesson for the biggest one.

FPA: When does the registration of independent candidate end? Is it separate from the general registration of political parties?

Chairman Fromayan: No, it is not. We did that in 2005 and it took us to court in the Marcus Jones’ case. The Court ruled against us on grounds that we had two separate sets of rules applying to those aspiring for the same position. Again, from that we learned our lessons and vowed to not give two different timings for both independent and parties’ representatives. We will the same time and don’t want to have the same case of somebody pulling us to court.

FPA: One complicated issue is the delineation of constituencies. With nine additional seats derived out of the Joint Resolution, how is the NEC going about on this? Is the Resolution proving embarrassing for the NEC as many criticize the National Legislature for apportioning the additional nine seats?
Chairman Fromayan: No, they did not apportion. They came out with a figure. We did that. They only came out with 9 additional seats. What they did was, with the 9 seats, they try to address the question of imbalance that had been occasioned as a result of the Joint Resolution. We take the Joint Resolution as a law that was passed into handbill. We had to use it as a formula to go to the electoral process. Without that formula, there is no way you would have demarcated constituencies. You know that over two years we were at that Capitol Building asking for Threshold consistent with the Constitution. Then the Joint Resolution came and with it obviously we have go to voters’ registration before delineating. The Joint Resolution called for the retention of the 64 seats. This meant an imbalance with the counties with larger populations. That is how they derive those nine additional seats to address the imbalance and thought for us to do the allocation. We did the allocation. Electoral districts have not been carved out.  The old ones are desecrated according to our own standpoint. We are going to have a fresh delineation of electoral districts.

FPA: How soon, Sir because a lot of representative candidates are entering the race and making declarations of intent without knowing the exact locals they would be contesting for?
Chairman Fromayan: They are buying pigs in the bag. They probably need to give it some time. It is not late for someone to declare his or her intention but given the situation we see ourselves in we believe that right after the exhibition which will be in a matter of few days, we will immediately begin the process of delineation.
FPA: Legal issues continue to rock the Commission. Does the Commission go into these decisions deliberately or unconscientiously? Is the Legal Department not really doing its work or is it mere political pressure?
Chairman Fromayan: No, I will not say that the Legal Department is not doing its work. I mean in a democratic setting you can’t always have it right.
FPA: But you seem to always be having it wrong with your numerous court cases.
Chairman Fromayan: No, that is not the record shows. If we lost one case, that doesn’t make it ‘most cases’. We are not talking about winning so many cases in court. As I stand here, there are some that didn’t need to go to court. For instance, we have political parties claiming that we ought to be five here instead of seven. Instead of trying to seek clarification, at this mid-day you’re questioning the composition of the Commission. We are of the view that that needed not to go to court. You could have asked us. The law is there that created this seven-man commission--- that increased the number to seven. But in the absence of that, if you get up and go to court, there have to be other motives. You have dealt with this commission that created you as a political party but it is at this day damned to be illegal. Then you’re a by-product of an illegal group. Some of these issues, Nat is that we cannot rule out that people will always take us to court. We need to strengthen the legal section as much as possible because we know that the cases will just be too much. Our international partners are helping us to get some additional legal practitioners.
FPA: You recently toured some counties. What were the challenges you saw? What are prospects for these elections and referendum?
Chairman Fromayan: Let me start with the prospects which are good. Elections like other challenges are not like manna. Anything you do there are challenges and you must make sure you put all you have into it to make it work. Elections….. Unlike others who just sit and criticize, are just given 1/20th and see the kind of work it entails, you will get to know. Did you come here to see the data center during and after the voters’ registration? There are rough terrains in most cases. Taking vehicles to places and sometimes materials have to be air-lifted. UNMIL has drawn down significantly. In the end they have to cut down on some of those places and we had to hire trotters. Some of the kits weighed 48 kilos. Imagine you have to tote 48 kilos on your head and some of those distances are over 8 to 12 hours of walk. Some cases go for two days. So, just imagine what we go through because election is for the entire country. You have to deploy temporary workers because the staffs we have here [at the Commission] can’t go anywhere. They can’t even cover the least county, let alone Montserrado. We need to train the temporary staffs in a short period of time and they are going to be the ones out there. The issue of logistics has always been the problem.  When those issues are addressed, you can go to bed relaxed knowing that elections are possible.  That is why we are prevailing on government for the use of the military trucks and we are telling political parties to go along with the idea of using military trucks because they are government properties and they will enhance the capacities of the Commission. Whatever trucks our partners are bringing in should be backed by military trucks and pickups. We need massive movement of materials and personnel. Some of the areas you go to in Gbarpolu you have to go through Lofa. Some of the areas in Bassa require you going through Bong. Some of the people who don’t see what we go through whenever they talk one wonders. You don’t do these things overnight. This election is not one that is being supported by the international community like in 2005. They had everything at their disposal. There were no questions over pickups and trucks. UNMIL trucks were used but this is not the case now. During the voters’ registration we didn’t use UNMIL trucks.  Our donors, through the Basket Fund, provided some trucks and pickups to add to our fleet. When these issues are addressed…..first we did our national warehouse. The National Headquarter is a gift from the Americans but we got the national warehouse of our own initiatives. We didn’t even stop there. We went in the rural areas and began to replace containers used in 2005 with warehouses. We have 19 mini-warehouses being constructed in our 19 magisterial centers across the country. In addition to that, we are also building bigger offices to replace the smaller ones, particularly in the Southeast. Our office in Bassa is the second to this one. The one in Tappita is also better. We are putting in what we have with the available resources because people will always complain. When people don’t complain, then you are not working. But there are others who are appreciating what we’re doing.
FPA: Where does Chairman Fromayan go after election work?
Chairman Fromayan: Well, Nat I tell you. I wish the elections were over tomorrow. I have young twins and their bigger sister. I will need more time to be with them. But until then, this is a mission that we are on. We must carry through. We owe it our country to ensure that there is free, fair and transparent election. That is why we are calling for massive international observation to lend credence to the outcome of the elections. If that task is behind us, obviously you want to go and have a lot of rest with the family. This is not that I won’t be able to work again but there is lesser job to do.
I want to leave that legacy [of conducting successful second successive elections]. In the face of all that, the present generation will judge us for what we are going to do. Posterity will judge us. If nine by-elections are anything to go by, there should be records because those criticizing us have never come out to say there have been frauds in any of these elections. Even in the Montserrado by election with the entire poll opening late, no one reported frauds. If polls open late, they open late for everyone. We offered an apology for that at the time. But elections are not 100% precision and that nothing will go wrong. Even about two years ago, I saw on the BBC television in an industrialized nation, the ballots were not enough! And I was surprised and began to laugh. They just can’t cope with that. But these are things that happen. We will not shy away from our responsibilities.
But I wish to emphasis here that nobody has any reason to believe that the NEC will not conduct credible elections. There will be no basis to believe so. The country deserves what we all have long advocated for---some of us for over 25 years to see democratic society prevails in this country. My deputy [Cllr Nelson] and I have been advocating for this. Other commissioners are all putting their best in it. We can’t have responsibilities and neglect them.
Finally, I want to urge political parties, civil society groups to continue to collaborate and cooperate with the Commission to achieve this national task. Nobody will be doing James Fromayan a particular favor. I just happen to be the Chairman. Whatever misconception people may have out there, our doors are always open. I’m a simple guy. I interact with people. It is only this time that I’m not teaching at the UL due to the workload. I’m a down to earth person. Positions come and go but society remains. We just want to ask the media to help us because sometimes you conduct press conference and some of the stories that come out of it you wonder if they are quoting you directly.