IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati

Mr Wafula Chebukati, the chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

| File | Nation Media Group

Playing with fire: IEBC’s 2022 General Election mess

If the 2022 General Election does not run smoothly, then the Treasury, Parliament and the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) will be to blame.

The three institutions have failed to provide funding and implement reforms required to prevent a repeat of the 2017 polls debacle that saw the election annulled by the Supreme Court, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has warned.

The IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati, in a situation brief dated September 22, faults Parliament for sitting on laws required to help plan for next year’s elections, the Treasury for cutting and delaying its funding, and the CA for failing to ensure 3G coverage in each of the estimated 53,000 polling stations from which results of the electoral contest will be declared.

“It defies all logic in this financial year, when most of the advance preparation work is to be undertaken, which has substantial financial implications both in terms of the sensitive procurement and actual costs, the National Treasury has arbitrarily slashed the budget from Sh40.9 billion to Sh26.5 billion,” Mr Chebukati said in the brief, also shared with faith-based organisations on Wednesday.

Fixed internal issues

The electoral agency contends that it has fixed internal issues raised by the Supreme Court in the 2017 judgement, but says actions and omissions of the three key institutions are hampering its preparations for the 2022 polls.

The commission faults the Treasury for what it calls "arbitrary" slashing of its budget by more than a third (35.2 percent), a reduction it says will significantly impede its processes.

Mr Chebukati says IEBC’s funding, which is at the discretion of the Treasury, is almost always not adequate and “exposes the Commission to the risk of State capture.”

Late release of funds

The IEBC says it is wrong for Treasury to only release funds to the Commission at the tail end of elections cycles, usually the last year to a General Election.

“Delayed disbursement of funding for elections are responsible for rushed procurement of goods and services at inflated costs as vendors take advantage of the Commission’s urgency to catch up with the electoral cycle,” Mr Chebukati says.

Nullification of the 2017 polls plunged the country into violence and a prolonged stand-off between the incumbent who were declared winners and the opposition who refused to take part in the repeat elections ordered by the Supreme Court.

“Such delayed activities have negatively impacted on deployment of electoral technologies having a deleterious effect on the electoral process.”

The Treasury did not respond to our queries on the funding issues raised by the IEBC.

The agency’s funding has previously triggered heated debate among top politicians, with the ODM leader Raila Odinga publicly stating that the agency was fond of inflating its budgets.

Budgets adjusted

The former vice chairperson of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, Dr Otiende Amollo, and who was integral in drafting of the laws, regulations, and budget of the IEBC, says the agency should learn to live within its means.

“All line budgets were adjusted, even that of Parliament. While we appreciate the need to fund IEBC fully, it was observed and it is true that the commission can save Kenyans some money by avoiding unnecessary expenditure. While the Sh26 billion might not be enough, it is also true that they do not need the entire Sh40 billion for them to deliver a credible process,” said Dr Amollo, who is also the Rarieda MP.

In the brief, the IEBC also wants fast movement on the part of the Communications Authority to solve the issue of the 3G internet network, which the Commission says only covers 83.6 per cent of the country.

Submission of electoral results to IEBC headquarters is by law supposed to be done electronically from the polling stations, and was a major sticking point in the 2017 elections as this was not proved to have been done in many cases due to lack of reliable internet connectivity.

3G network coverage

The IEBC says it had in February agreed with the Communications Authority that it would undertake a quality of service parameters check across all polling stations “to identify those that do not have adequate 3G network coverage” and propose ways to fix the situation.

“It is not possible to transmit results forms without the 3G network. In 2017, the IEBC gazetted 11,155 polling stations out of the 40,883 as lacking 3G network. The Commission was blamed for lack of connectivity,” Mr Chebukati says.

In its 2017 ruling, the Supreme Court narrowed down on 11,000 polling stations, some of them in Kiambu, Murang’a, Kisumu Town, and other places that generally should have good internet network, and which the IEBC said could not transmit their results forms because of lack of connectivity.

“It is common knowledge that most parts of those counties have fairly good road network infrastructure. Even if we were to accept that all of them are off the 3G and/or 4G network range, it would take, at most, a few hours for the presiding officers to travel to vantage points from where they would electronically transmit the results,” the judges ruled, terming the failure an “inexcusable contravention.”

But, in a response, the CA acting director general Mercy Wanjau said the access to broadband (3G and/or 4G) network had shot up to 96.3 per cent of the country, leaving only 3.7 per cent not covered.

This, Ms Wanjau said, will be bridged through an intervention by the Universal Service Fund (USF) project.

“USF Phase 1 covered 78 sub locations of which 75 are already connected and upgraded to 3G with the remaining three targeted for completion by December 2021. Further, the Authority has also the relevant service providers to cover 101 sub locations spread across 17 counties in Kenya within the current financial year. The Authority is also in the process of fast tracking contracting for USF Phase 3 to cover additional sub locations and subsequently polling centres,” Ms Wanjau said in an email response to the Nation.

The Authority, she said, was in consultation with the IEBC about how best to address the about 1,000 polling stations not covered by 3G.

Uncovered polling stations

“The Authority is in consultation with service providers, IEBC and other relevant stakeholders on the best reliable initiatives of ensuring that any polling centres still uncovered are connected prior to the general election. Recent analysis indicates that less than 1,000 polling centres remain uncovered by 3G/4G and discussions on how to cover them are at an advanced stage,” Ms Wanjau said yesterday.

On Parliament and enactment of electoral laws, the IEBC fingered the House for taking too long to enact laws on the referendum, the IEBC Amendment Bill submitted in May 20, 2020; the Electoral Campaign Finance (Amendment) Bill, 2020, submitted on August 21, 2020; as well as an amalgamation of electoral legal reforms the commission submitted to both Houses of Parliament on October 19, 2020.

None of these, the commission said, has been enacted into law, affecting their planning and operations.

“The real issues are the late enactment of electoral law too close to the election, undermining planning and implementation of activities within the set electoral timelines. The international best practice is to cease enactment of electoral laws at least two years before a General Election,” said Mr Chebukati on Parliament.

Parliament, however, says the Commission was being untruthful as it has passed the IEBC Amendment Bill and has scheduled for debate a motion to reject the proposed campaign spending limits that would have seen presidential candidates limited to Sh4.4 billion spending in a campaign period, while parties were to be allowed to spend only up to Sh17 billion.

‘Stop prior excuses’

“IEBC should start focusing on how to conduct a credible elections next year and stop giving these prior excuses to why they might not conduct a credible process. Parliament has done its part. The referendum law has been tabled, and the regulations are being processed. None of those stops IEBC from proceeding to plan for the General Election,” Dr Amollo says.

In the brief, the Commission defended the high cost of elections, blaming it on the law that requires that polling stations must not have more than 700 voters.

The IEBC estimates that polling stations will increase from 40,883 in 2017 to 53,000 in 2022 as it plans to register six million more new voters, to take Kenya’s voters’ roll to a total of 23.6 million.

Of its planned expenditures in 2022, IEBC has set aside Sh6 billion to hire temporary polling officials, who will include at least five clerks, a presiding officer, and a police officer at every polling station.

Elections technology

The Commission has also set aside Sh4.5 billion for the deployment of the elections technology while it plans to use Sh5.9 billion to procure ballot papers.

“We have reached a point where our ballot papers have to have more security features than the legal currency in your pockets. But that is the price we have to pay to curb trust deficit issues,” the IEBC boss said.

Last year, Mr Chebukati suggested that Kenya could further bring down the cost of elections by procuring ballot papers locally in what he said will be 10 times cheaper than getting them from abroad.

“For the Kibra by-election, we paid Sh30 per ballot paper, procured locally. When we procure from outside, we usually pay between Sh120 and Sh150 per ballot paper. But we went outside because of the trust element,” Mr Chebukati said in an interview on Citizen TV in November 2020.

“If all our stakeholders can agree we do the ballot papers locally, we can procure some of the things locally and reduce the cost of elections significantly. Like for the (proposed BBI) referendum, we can have a ballot paper worth Sh10 or Sh12 because it is a single Yes, or No answer ballot.”

In 2017, IEBC awarded Dubai-based Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company a Sh2.5 billion tender to print ballot papers.

The Commission has conducted 42 by-elections since 2017, 26 for Members of County Assemblies, 13 for National Assembly seats, and three for the Senate.