The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has exposed itself terribly with the sordid matter of elections materials intercepted at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
On whether the identification stickers for labelling of electronic voter identification and data transmission gadgets seized by police were actually legitimate IEBC consignments, I would give IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati the benefit of doubt.
Without contrary evidence, neither would I question that the man in whose luggage the materials were found during routine screening, was a bona fide employee or agent of Smartmatic, the company contracted to supply, install and deploy election technology.
Ditto the two other arrivals who had apparently brought in similar consignments earlier without detection.
Even the fact that the three men are Venezuelans and flew in from Panama while Smartmatic was formed in the United States and is currently headquartered in the United Kingdom is neither here nor there.
It’s the nature of multinational corporations that staff are also multinational, and operations could be conducted from any corner of the globe.
What is worrying, however, is the lackadaisical way of doing things that the saga exposes about the electoral body.
Stickers for labelling and keeping track of the election gadgetry may not be as sensitive as the actual kits or ballot papers, declaration forms and other critical software, hardware and stationery, but it is unforgiveable that they should be brought into the country in such a casual manner.
There has to be a security element to movement of any election material, which must never be handled as if it were just socks, underwear, toothpaste and other personal items in the luggage of a traveller.
There are companies specialised in moving sensitive or valuable goods, even cash and gold bullion, across international borders. These are not things to hand over to an individual.
IEBC has a security department, which surely has to ensure the safety of such material right from the source to the consignee.
It also has at its disposal National Police Service officers, who should be at hand to oversee receipt of the goods and ensure safe escort to a secure facility.
The role of the police
These are not things for which a courier or agent calls a cab and delivers to the private office of a broker or company representative.
As long as they insist that the consignment comprised legitimate election material, the whole saga has been a major fail on the part of Mr Chebukati and his band of merry men and women at the IEBC.
Then there has been the role of the police service in the whole affair. Responding to Mr Chebukati’s accusations about police harassment of election officers and service providers and irregular seizure of materials that could compromise the August 9 General Elections, the Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti clearly went overboard with a wild and totally irresponsible statement.
Mr Kinoti is given to braggadocio, but this time he outdid even himself with a lengthy statement that was more of a political rant than an official communiqué . It was full of intemperate language, unproven accusations, and bewildering claims that cannot stand any sobriety test.
Any statement on an active investigation, if indeed there was one, must always be carefully crafted. It must be calm and limited only to facts relevant to the matter at hand.
Displays of emotion and anger are absolutely out of order, especially if it’s a matter that could end up in a court of law.
The DCI boss must learn to tame his tongue, and in particular distinguish his statements from the comedy regularly dished out by the James Hadley Chase wannabes that run his directorate’s Twitter account.
In particular, Mr Kinoti must be alive to the fact that elections in Kenya are emotive affairs where suspicion reigns supreme. Virtually every political formation is on the lookout for signs of chicanery, and on the ready to cry foul at the tiniest hint of something untoward. When there are already accusations of political interference, the police must not behave in a manner that only serves to add fuel to the fire.
The same applies to Mr Chebukati. He knows fully well that the IEBC is under a great deal of scrutiny at a time such as this. There are political groupings looking for any excuse to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre as a prelude to crying foul when they lose out at the polls. He must not be the one to provide excuses for those out to fault his electoral management body.
[email protected] www.gaitho.co.ke. @MachariaGaitho