IEBC in race to streamline its processes as the August General Election approaches

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

As the official campaign period starts today, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is also in a race of its own to have everything ready for the General Election.

Unlike in 2013 and 2017 when the commission was still mired in procurement controversies around technology and printing of ballot papers, this time looks better as IEBC awarded the tenders for strategic electoral materials and services much earlier. Even the ballot boxes that will be used in the General Election had started being distributed to the regions.

Yet this does not suggest that everything is in place. Over the years, the commission has been accused of being aloof with the public and communicating so little. This year is no different, according to Frankline Mukwanja, the executive director of the Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD-Kenya).

“I think the most important thing about IEBC is that they should improve on apprising everyone about their preparedness and their challenges on the questions of technology, voter register audit, and vetting of candidates among others. You can judge them as less prepared or aloof wrongly when they could easily correct that by just being more communicative so that we can assess that level of preparedness and also appreciate the challenges,” said Mr Mukwanja.

In his address to the presidential aspirants and their representatives on May 23, IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati, however, suggested otherwise in so far as their engagement with the candidates and the public is concerned.

“The commission runs an open door policy and is readily available to offer any clarification sought by candidates,” he said.

There is the issue of pending legal reforms. In parliament, for instance, several bills critical to the management of the poll are pending, and there is doubt whether the MPs can dispense with them before the Houses adjourn for the elections on June 16.

The bills listed include the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022 sponsored by the Leader of Majority in the National Assembly Amos Kimunya. The bill seeks to allow the IEBC to declare election results from physically delivered forms, a big departure from the requirement to have all results transmitted electronically.

The bill also seeks to alter the flow of results for a presidential election, with presiding officers only required to send images of the results to the national tallying centre and then personally deliver them to the constituency returning officer.

Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni also sponsored the Election Campaign Financing (Amendment) Bill, 2021 and the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2021. The latter seeks to amend section 34 (8) of the Elections Act to regulate how members of county assemblies are nominated to county assemblies. There is also the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2021 by Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina, which seeks to mandate the IEBC to allow candidates to use their nicknames on the ballot.

IEBC, however, says that the bills pending before parliament are not the very key to conducting the August 9 elections and instead are only meant to streamline their processes.

Besides the pending bills, there is the audit of the voter register. Audit firm KPMG was awarded the tender to audit the register ahead of the polls. This has been delayed. According to IEBC’s Elections Operations Plan, the procurement of the firm to conduct the register was supposed to be undertaken last year. However, this was only done this year and KPMG has yet to finalise its report.

Sunday Nation has learnt that the firm was on Thursday presenting its draft report to IEBC commissioners and top management. Thereafter the report should be brought before the commission’s plenary this week before it is made public.

The audit helps highlight cases of multiple registrations, dead voters and incomplete details. As of the close of the voter registration, IEBC had more than 21 million registered voters.

On procurement, the commission awarded the Greek security paper printing firm Inform Lykos, the contract to print ballot papers, results declaration forms and other statutory forms used in the elections. At the same time, the commission awarded the tender for the Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System (KIEMS) kits to replace the worn-out and misplaced ones to Smartmatic.

In 2017, IEBC had yet to finalise the ballot paper printing tender as a bid to award it to Al Ghurair attracted litigation as then opposition coalition Nasa and a section of civil society questioned the printer’s impartiality and battled to have the contract given to a different firm. With time running out, IEBC then decided to go for direct bidding, with Al Ghurair the only alternative they had. By July 2017, just a month before the elections, the courts were still litigating the matter of ballot paper printing.

While there were litigations on the KIEMS and ballot paper printing tender this time too, largely it was limited to bidders. Moreover, since the processes started earlier, the legal challenges were also dealt with in good time.

The commission has also awarded tenders for branded security seals, supply, delivery, installation, upgrade, and testing and simulation of servers of the biometric voter registration system.

Back in 2021, IEBC CEO Hussein Marjan stated that the commission intended to conclude the procurement of the items by December 31, 2021.

Internally, however, there is a disquiet that could impact the commission’s unity and ability to deliver credible and transparent elections. Disagreements over processes and activities have often pitted the three commissioners who were there from 2017 namely Chairman Wafula Chebukati, Prof Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu against the commissioners who were appointed in 2021 namely vice chairperson Juliana Cherera, Irene Masit, Justus Nyang’aya and Francis Wanderi.

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