IEBC retreat to cool tempers, plan polls

IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati at a past function. Mr Chebukati has called IEBC retreat to end wrangles. PHOTO| FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Blame game and mistrust persist ahead of full Supreme Court decision
  • With 36 days to go, commission in race against time to prepare for fresh polls
  • In the interview, Mr Chiloba also hinted he would still play a central role in the organisation and conduct of the October 17 poll.
  • Mr Odinga, on his part, questioned the readiness of the commission to conduct the elections if they cannot agree among themselves.
  • Nasa presidential candidate Raila on Friday accused the government of targeting some commissioners by withdrawing their security besides direct threats to their lives.

The embattled electoral commission will on Sunday retreat to Naivasha to seek a common position at the end of a damaging week in which sharp differences emerged in public ahead of the fresh presidential election next month.

The Nation has learnt that the commissioners, led by Chairman Wafula Chebukati, and senior officials in the secretariat under Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba opted to meet outside the capital as tension and mistrust persisted just 36 days to the election.

 The Supreme Court last month ordered a repeat election after President Uhuru Kenyatta’s win on a Jubilee Party ticket over his National Super Alliance opponent Mr Raila Odinga on August 8 was nullified

The meeting is, however, being held in an atmosphere of uncertainty before the details of the Supreme Court ruling that is expected to be critical of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is released.

IEBC communication official Andrew Limo did not immediately respond to our enquiries on the agenda of the meeting.

But a commission insider, who spoke in confidence, said: “We are going to Naivasha tomorrow (Sunday) to forge a common front as we prepare for the elections.”

MEMO

Apart from the much-publicised memo by the IEBC chairman to the CEO Ezra Chiloba to explain a host of failings in the conduct of last month’s presidential poll, the appointment of a project team to lead the preparations to the October 17 presidential election has emerged as yet another thorny issue.

Mr Chebukati announced a six-member team headed by one of the deputy CEOs, Marjan Hussein Marjan.

The team is said to have met for the first time on Wednesday to start planning for the October 17 elections.

Others are Dr Sidney Namulungu (Head of Operations), Ms Nancy Kariuki (head of logistics), Mr Bernard Misati Moseti (head of training), Albert Gogo (head of ICT) and Mr Silas Rotich (head of national tallying centre).

The formation of the team was interpreted as Mr Chebukati’s way of sidelining the staff led by Mr Chiloba variously accused of mismanaging the August 8 poll.

PROJECT TEAM

In public, Mr Chiloba told The EastAfrican newspaper in an interview that the naming of the project team was “how we operate within IEBC.” (See excerpts of the interview on Page 6.)

“We have always run our major operations under project teams, including voter registration, tallying centre management and such. This isn’t a new idea, but how we operate within IEBC. What the chair was demonstrating is we are getting ready for the election,” Mr Chiloba said.

However, people close to the CEO have termed the naming of the project team an illegality and said Mr Chiloba will remain in charge of preparations.

“The Project Team named by the chairman is illegal. The chairman cannot purport to appoint operational staff. In any organisation, it is the CEO who has the power to incur expenditure and to appoint staff on the directive of the plenary or board of directors,” the source told the Nation.

In the interview, Mr Chiloba also hinted he would still play a central role in the organisation and conduct of the October 17 poll despite opposition Nasa’s demands that he, along with deputy CEO Betty Nyabuto, directors Praxedes Tororey (legal and public affairs), Immaculate Kassait (voter registration and electoral operations) and James Muhati (ICT) and manager, legal department and adviser to the CEO Moses Kipkogey step aside.

SUPPORT

“The team cannot work without the rest of us. We have more than 800 people working at IEBC and this team needs support,” Mr Chiloba said.

The project team is said to have helped the commission come up with a timetable ahead of the election.

“The milestones include a revised election results framework, certification of the register of voters, upgraded technology for election, recruitment, training and deployment, voter education and Election Day operations, among others,” Mr Chebukati said.

The commission has a draft budget of Sh12 billion for the election which has been presented to the National Treasury for approval.

“We expect expeditious allocation of funds to allow for implementation of the key tasks ahead, especially those related to ICT and training,” Mr Chebukati said.

As well as the wrangles over the project team, is the Chebukati memo which has raised political and boardroom temperatures. In his first public comment so far, Mr Chebukati told off his fellow commissioners who have disowned the memo that “the chairman does not need permission of commissioners/plenary to issue a memo to the CEO or commissioners.”

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

“As the National Returning Officer for Presidential Elections in Kenya it is my responsibility to make all necessary inquiries as to matters election,” Mr Chebukati said in response to the Sunday Nation enquiries.

In the September 5 memo, Mr Chebukati was demanding answers to 12 questions relating to possible insubordination by the CEO, technology failures during the August 8 polls, acceptance and usage of results declaration forms which did not conform to the defined contractual terms and obligations in terms of security features and the creation and use of his username and password without his knowledge and consent among others.

On Thursday night, IEBC Vice-Chairperson Consolata Nkatha, commissioners Yakub Guliye, Paul Kurgat, Boya Molu, and Margaret Mwachanya were initially said to have disowned the memo, saying it had not been discussed by the commissioners in the plenary.

But commissioners Kurgat and Mwachanya immediately distanced themselves from the statement disowning the chairman’s memo. However, in a puzzling about-turn less than two hours after talking to a Nation reporter, Mr Kurgat joined his fellow commissioners in disowning the memo.

PROPER ANSWERS

Meanwhile, in the interview, Mr Chiloba told The EastAfrican he will respond to the issues raised by the chairman “in the interest of the public.”

“We will provide proper answers and explanations on the same,” he said, adding that that’s not a big deal now that a section of commissioners have spoken out about the memo.

Speaking about the simmering tensions within IEBC, a source with the knowledge of the events taking place inside the commission remarked that “everybody is trying to fight for their own survival”, painting a grim picture of the preparations.

Both Jubilee and Nasa have spoken about the divisions within IEBC, with President Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and Nasa presidential candidate Mr Odinga urging the commission to stop the “sideshows” and put their energies on the October 17 presidential election.

“Prepare yourselves for the people of Kenya to vote,” the President told IEBC at a rally in Kapkatet. “We don’t want sideshows.”

Mr Odinga, on his part, questioned the readiness of the commission to conduct the elections if they cannot agree among themselves.

TENSION

Meanwhile, a number of secretariat staff have taken days off to escape the simmering tension within the commission.   

As the IEBC prepares for the repeat poll, there have also emerged claims of infiltration by political forces and security agencies, which have further divided the commission.

While Nasa seems to be a little sympathetic to Mr Chebukati with former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka saying “we have no problem with Mr Chebukati”, Jubilee, on the other hand, has been admonishing the chairman.

Addressing a campaign rally at Uhuru Park yesterday, Deputy President William Ruto told Mr Chebukati to carry his own cross.

RETURNING OFFICER

“As the presidential returning officer you cannot be seen to be apportioning blame,” Mr Ruto said in reference to the memo.

Nasa, on the other hand, has accused some secretariat staff of being Jubilee agents.

Also, Nasa presidential candidate Raila on Friday accused the government of targeting some commissioners by withdrawing their security besides direct threats to their lives.

“You need to know the situation is fairly grave right now. A number of commissioners are under serious threats by the government. So we are in a very dangerous situation at the moment,” Mr Odinga said.

SUPREME COURT

Besides the infighting, infiltration and threats is the less talked about consequence of the detailed judgment of the Supreme Court expected by September 21.

In the summarised determination by the majority, Supreme Court Judges, Chief Justice Maraga, Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu, Justice Smokin Wanjala and Justice Isaac Lenaola had signalled at the content of their judgment when they found IEBC to have “failed, neglected or refused to conduct the Presidential Election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the Constitution and, inter alia, the Elections Act, Chapter 7 of the Laws of Kenya.”

That just being the tip of the iceberg, the judgment could even be more scathing to individuals and the entire IEBC which could again put them in a tight corner just weeks to the repeat presidential election.

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