Chernoh Alpha M. Bah, Matthew Anderson, and Mark Feldman: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 September 2022:
Sierra Leone’s national voter registration exercise for 2023 commenced on 3 September 2022, and was fraught with technical and bureaucratic challenges. Hundreds of videos and other evidence collected by Africanist Press show that thousands of potential voters who turned up at voter registration centers, mostly in Freetown and in cities across the north of the country, were unable to register.
In several centers in Freetown, Africanist Press observed that voters queued up for many hours to register only to be told by electoral officials that they were experiencing technical problems, including lack of functioning computers, absence of electricity supply, and other complication with software and fingerprint scanners. A week later, electoral officials have offered no explanation as to why computer and other technological glitches persist. Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyer, commented on Twitter to confirm that several people queued at a registration center in west Freetown for several hours and were unable to register due to non-working computers and problematic software issues.
Despite confirmed problems and observation of voters being turned away, Chief Electoral Commissioner, Mohamed Konneh, held a press conference in Freetown to announce that registration was in progress and that 415,465 voters were registered despite technical challenges. ECSL did not provide the breakdown of registration figures and neither has the Commission explained why technical challenges have also persisted despite millions of dollars in procurement funds allocated for technology and other voter registration equipment.
Africanist Press found procurement irregularities that likely marred voter registration in Sierra Leone through illegal procurement procedures. The Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) awarded two procurements contracts worth about US$10 million to two Freetown companies that did not show technical capacity to supply the requested voter registration technology and software for the country’s upcoming elections in June 2023.
ECSL awarded Infinity Information Communication Technology and General Merchandise an US$8.5 million contract to supply laptop computers, fingerprint scanners, and associated accessories, and another US$1.2 million contract to Felicity Solar Technology (SL) Limited for the purchase of 1,850 portable rechargeable solar-powered generators and 1,850 extension cords with surge protector accessories. Both Infinity ICT and General Merchandise and Felicity Solar Technology were selected in April 2022 from among 13 other companies that submitted bids to the ECSL to supply technology equipment and software (computers, solar-powered generators, and accessories) to undertake a national voter registration exercise in Sierra Leone ahead of the 2023 general elections.
ECSL placed the request for contracts NEC/DMVR/ICB/G/2022/0063 on public notice on 21 February 2022, inviting eligible companies to submit sealed bids for the supply of 2000 laptop computers (2TB), 2000 laptop-carrying boxes, 2000 fingerprint scanners, 2000 USB flash drives (128GB), 500 external hard drives (4TB), and a list of other voter registration accessories and software. Thirteen companies submitted bids, including Bintex Incorporated Ltd, Conciel Ltd, FutureCom Enterprises, A. A Enterprises, Orchid Ventures Limited, Amsoft Technologies and Innovation Ltd, Gladiators Technology and General Services Limited, Axon Consortium, Steps Trading, Tiwaii Memory Masters Limited, Intelligent Card Production Systems Limited, Infinity ICT and General Merchandise, and Larubasa Investment (Ghana). In late April 2022, ECSL’s Executive Secretary William Addo-Davies informed bidding companies that the Commission granted Infinity ICT and General Merchandise the contract because the company submitted the lowest bid.
“We hereby announce our intent to award the contract to Infinity ICT and General Merchandise having being evaluated as the lowest response bidder [emphasis added] in accordance with the criteria stated in the bidding document,” William Addo-Davies wrote on 29 April 2022.
ECSL stated that Infinity won the contract based on lowest bid criteria, although documents uncovered by Africanist Press on the evaluation process show that Infinity’s proposed contract offer of US$7,475,700 was higher than the amounts offered by at least two other companies, Orchid Ventures (US$7,186,626) and Bintex Incorporated Ltd (US$5,800,700). These two companies matched Infinity ICT and General Merchandise on all seven criteria points used to evaluate the bids. In a normal bidding process, these criteria would lead to the selection of Orchid or Bintex, or plausibly, to an invited additional information process.
Africanist Press discovered that Orchid and Bintex, for example, fulfilled all the listed bidding requirements, including NASSIT and NRA clearances, business registration certificates, evidence of similar experience, and updated audited financial statements. Africanist Press found that Orchid and Bintex even provided manufacturer’s authorization, which Infinity did not include in its bidding documents. ECSL, nonetheless, awarded Infinity the contract without providing any other reason as to why the company was selected over the rest of the other companies who were more qualified than Infinity and had more proven capabilities and lowest bid offers. In their proposal, Infinity ICT and General Merchandise showed no other competitive advantage over the other companies.
Africanist Press further discovered that a third-party supplier identified as Laxton Group was then subcontracted, again through Infinity ICT and General Merchandise, to deliver the voter registration equipment and software. After reviewing invoices and financial correspondence, we found that Laxton accepted the subcontract, which is to cover the entire procurement, for US$2,247,100. This amount that is nearly 80% lower than the proposed contract price of over US$8.5 million awarded to Infinity ICT and General Merchandise for the same project. In the course of our investigation, we reviewed invoices from ECSL records and found that a specific invoice #637 issued on 14 June 2022 in the name of Laxton requested from ECSL the amount of US$224,710.00 as 10% advance payment on the voter registration contract.
Correspondence by ECSL’s Executive Secretary, William Addo-Davies dated 15 June 2022, instructs Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) officials to transfer the amount of US$213,963.00 from ECSL/NEC’s BSL Account # 011 200 8440 to Infinity ICT and General Merchandise’s USD Account # 003 001 100 165 412 164 held at the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank in Freetown. Central Bank records show that BSL transferred the funds to the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank on 16 June 2022 (at about 12:15PM) in Sierra Leone. We also found that two weeks later on 29 June 2022, another US$409,294.58 was paid through SWIFT transfer (via Standard Chartered Bank South Africa – SCB/SA) in the name of Infinity as additional payment of 20% on the said contract.
Thus, Africanist Press asserts that Infinity ICT and General Merchandise was awarded the contract without fair competition and a transparent bidding process, contrary to ECSL claims and in violation of the Public Procurement Act, 2016. Section 37(1) of the Public Procurement Act specifically provides that “public procurement shall be undertaken by means of [an] advertised open bid processes, to which equal access shall be provided to all eligible and qualified bidders without discrimination” and “that letters of notification informing unsuccessful bidders of the reason for which their respective bids were unsuccessful must be sent to the bidders.”
Africanist Press also examined the National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA) database on awarded contracts in FY2022 and found discordance between NPPA’s records on the contracts and ECSL’s financial records for the same contracts awarded to Infinity and Laxon. ECSL’s financial documents show that an US$8.5 million contract was awarded to Infinity which, in turn, subcontracted Laxon on a US$2.2 million offer on the same contract. However, the NPPA database suggests that Infinity had a separate contract of US$8.5 million and Laxon had a separate contract of US$2.2 million, which means that ECSL spent US$10,844,155 on laptop computers, fingerprint scanners, and associated voter registration software, more likely valued by our estimates at between US$5-6 million. The NPPA database on the contracts contain details that contradict detailing of the bidding notices and ECSL financial transactions relating to the payments.
“The exaggerated amounts, which directly contradicts the stated budgets in the advertised bid notices for the contracts clearly shows efforts by both the Electoral Commission and Procurement Authority to justify the procurement irregularities and corruption surrounding the award of the contracts,” says finance specialist, Ahmed Sesay.
In addition to the US$8.5 million contract awarded to Infinity for the supply of 2000 computers and associated voter registration equipment and software, Africanist Press also discovered another US$1.2 million contract was similarly awarded to Felicity Solar Technology (SL) Limited. The Felicity Solar Technology contract NEC/DMVR/ICB/G/2022/0062 was granted for the purchase of 1,850 portable rechargeable solar-powered generators and 1,850 extension cords with surge protector accessories. We discovered an invoice issued on 31 May 2022 in the name of Felicity Solar Technology requesting an amount of US$385,725.00 as advance payment of 30% from the US$1,285,750.00 contract awarded for the supply and delivery of the portable solar-powered generators. At a conservative estimate, a good-quality solar-powered generator costs about US $2000 and usually comes bundled with power cords and adaptors; this rough estimate would amount to about US $3.7 million.
Despite the conflicting documentary evidence showing that over US$10 million in electoral funds had been spent on procurement of technology for the voter registration exercise, Africanist Press found no evidence that the supposed registration equipment were actually delivered.
Africanist Press could not reach ECSL officials or NPPA for their comments on the contracts and delivery status of the computers and the other equipment as phone calls to both agencies went unanswered.
We have published on the Africanist Press website documents showing to demonstrate the evidence on which this report is based.
For more information see https://africanistpress.com/2022/09/12/sierra-leone-equipment-and-software-irregularities-affect-voter-registration-despite-about-us10-million-government-procurement-expenditures/