MPs threaten to blacklist OT-Morpho from Kenyan tenders

An IEBC official holds a Kiems gadget during tallying at Nyeri Technical in Nyeri town on August 9, 2017. The French company OT-Morpho, which supplied the gadgets used for identifying voters and transmitting results has rebranded itself as IDEMIA. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Firm supplied poll materials to IEBC for the 2013 and 2017 General Elections.
  • In 2017, it received a Sh4.5 billion tender to supply 45,000 electronic kits used in the August 8 election.
  • A further Sh2.5 billion tender was given to firm for materials used in the repeat presidential poll on October 26, 2017.

Members of Parliament are now plotting to blacklist a French technology firm at the centre of multibillion-shilling tenders for poll materials to the electoral commission in the 2017 General Election.

National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was incensed on Monday after directors of OT-Morpho — now renamed Idemia — snubbed summons to shed light on issues raised by Auditor-General’s report on the 2017 elections.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) controversially awarded the French firm a Sh4.2 billion tender to supply 45,000 Kenya Integrated Election Management System (Kiems) kits that were used in the August 8, 2017 elections.

The tender award led to sharp divisions at the seven-member commission and former chief executive Ezra Chiloba, who was sacked by the IEBC chairman over issues related to the management of the 2017 election.

A further Sh2.5 billion tender was awarded to the company for the October 26, 2017 repeat presidential election following nullification by the Supreme Court.

SUMMONS IGNORED

But when the House watchdog committee chaired by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi met on Monday to hear from the firm, its directors were nowhere despite having been invited.

Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo and other committee members protested why the company was readily available to sign tenders with the electoral commission but not ready to account for public money.

“On account of defiance on public accountability, they must be barred from being awarded tenders in the country,” Mr Amollo said on the understanding that the Sh500, 000 a witness is required to pay in fines for skipping a parliamentary committee session, is a slap on the wrist.

“It has benefited from multi-billion tenders in the country and continues to do so. We must bring them from the shadows and bring them to account,” he said.

The invites to the firm included a hard copy sent to the company’s contact person in France — Ezabel Debaiya — through a registered mail followed by an email notification. 

But she did not respond, forcing two other email reminders from the Clerk’s office that were equally ignored.

CENSUS KITS

The company has supplied Kiems to the IEBC in the 2013 to the 2017 elections.

Curiously, during the time, it has changed names three times — from Safran Morpho in 2013 to OT Morpho in the 2017 elections and now Idemia.

But even as the MPs breathed fire, the company has already won a multibillion deal to supply biometric kits for fresh national identity card registration exercise that is expected to cost the taxpayer Sh6 billion ahead of the national census exercise in August this year. 

Kenya plans to start mass biometric registration of fingerprints on March 18 with Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho saying the French firm has already supplied 31,500 biometric kits for the exercise set to last 45 days.

It is estimated that half the budget will be spent directly on the kits with bulk of the remaining funds set for the 50,000 registration officers contracted for the exercise.

LAST CHANCE

But the MPs agreed to give the firm one more chance to appear before the committee on February 18, or risk grave consequences.

Mr Wandayi and his Molo colleague Kimani Kuria were unanimous that whether in France or “in the clouds” they must be brought to account.

“On a matter of appearance before this committee, there is no exception. If they don’t appear, as a committee we will make our recommendations to the House in the best way we know,” Mr Wandayi said.

The directors of the firm are among the last witnesses expected before the committee before it retreats to write its report on the expenditure for the national government for 2015/16 financial year.

On Monday, the committee requested the office of the Clerk to ensure the directors are summoned through another registered mail, an email and another letter sent to them through the Kenyan embassy in France.

BOARDROOM WARS 

The 2017 tender was marred with boardroom wars that split the commissioners right in the middle.

Commissioners Abdi Guliye, who vouched for Smartmatic, and his colleagues Mr Paul Kurgat and Mr Boya Molu, and Mr Chiloba opposed the awarding of the tender to OT-Morpho.

But IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati, then vice-chairperson Connie Nkatha Maina, and former commissioners Margaret Mwachanya and Roselyn Akombe overruled the three.

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