In November 2021, the electoral body awarded a Sh4 billion voter identification equipment and software tender to Smartmatic International BV, setting in motion a series of events that has now led to investigations into suspected election manipulation.
Companies providing such services to government institutions are required to either have a local office or appoint an agent.
Smartmatic, a company owned by Venezuelans but registered in the Netherlands and headquartered in the United Kingdom, opted for the latter and appointed Kenya’s Seamless Technologies as its local agent.
Part of the local agent’s job is to train the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) staff on how to use the Kenya Integrated Election Management (Kiems) kits.
The company has been in existence for slightly over a decade, working with some of the biggest technology companies in the world like Microsoft, Dell and HP.
Mr Muna Mohamed and Mr Hashim Ahmed Hussein first registered Seamless Tech in 2010 as a limited liability partnership. The two would sell IT-related equipment to companies and non-governmental organisations.
Ownership records for the partnership are not available on the companies’ registry online portal.
On April 23, 2014 the two entrepreneurs incorporated Seamless Limited as a limited liability company as they ventured into software development.
The two hired Maria Goretti Nyariki, a lawyer who would rise to become a deputy registrar of societies, as Seamless Limited’s company secretary. Ms Nyariki has previously been the Kenya Bureau of Standards’ chief legal manager and state counsel at the Ministry of Agriculture. She also served as a member of the Law Society of Kenya’s Disciplinary Committee.
Mr Mohamed and Mr Hussein each have 50 shares in Seamless Limited.
Seamless Technologies’ postal address is registered in Eastleigh, but it operates out of a shared workspace on the other end of Nairobi. It operates out of iHit, an Iranian government funded shared space, where Kenyan innovators are supported by experts and companies from the country.
Efforts by the Nation to get into iHit on Tuesday were fruitless as security personnel said the few managers present were held up in meetings until late evening. Others had already returned to the Iranian Embassy.
Security personnel, however, said that the work space is fully booked for the near future.
Shared spaces allow innovators to hire workstations at an affordable fee on short-term basis, which means the individuals hiring them mostly don’t have a permanent office.
This means that a company crucial to the delivery of a free and fair election was subcontracted despite not having a permanent physical address.
In the ownership records at the Companies registry, Seamless Technologies has not declared a phone number or physical address.
Yesterday, IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati, in a statement, defended Smartmatic’s local partner but failed to mention it by name.
“One of the conditions in the tender document was that the bidder should provide a detailed support and maintenance plan and attach documentary proof of ICT technical support staff with a local registered office in Kenya. Smartmatic complied with this condition by providing a local partner in the country.”
He added: “Smartmatic has implemented technologies for election commissions in five continents being North America, South America, Africa, Europe and Asia, cumulatively recording and tabulating 6.5 billion votes.” he added.
Seamless Technologies was thrown into controversy when three Venezuelans—Jose Gregorio Camargo, Joel Gustavo Rodriguez Garcia and Salvador Javier Sosa Suarez were arrested last week in possession of poll materials that were allegedly being transported in personal luggage.
The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) is now investigating claims that the Venezuelans are part of a plan to manipulate results of the August polls.
Yesterday, Mr Chebukati stated that the Kiems kits stickers were non-strategic election materials.
“It is important to note that the stickers are non-strategic election materials. The stickers were printed based on the details of the Gazette notice published on July 1, 2022. The information therein is available to the public and can be accessed on the commission’s website. The stickers contain information on the polling station, polling centre, ward, constituency and county as well as a unique barcode,” the IEBC boss said.
In the statement, Mr Chebukati also revealed that Smartmatic is not providing all the Kiems kits needed for this election.
“Before Smartmatic was contracted, the commission had an inventory of 45,000 Kiems kits, out of which 41,000 were in good working condition. In accordance with the contract and as ordered by the commission, Smartmatic has supplied 14,100 additional Kiems kits to the commission, bringing the total number of the kits that are in good working condition to 55,100,” Mr Chebukati said.
The commission, he said, is currently loading the Kiems kits with electronic voter identification and results transmission system softwares, Sim cards of network operators and voters’ biographic and biometric data.
Additional reporting by Onyango K’Onyango