Eyes on IEBC as first batch of ballot papers make surprise arrival

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

The electoral agency was Thursday facing numerous questions after the surprise arrival of the first batch of ballot papers for the General Election even before publication of candidates’ names in the Kenya Gazette. Questions abounded on why the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) proceeded with the printing of ballot papers before the publication, whose delay the agency blamed on the Government Printer, which in turn protested insincerity by the commission.

A gazette notice of 16,098 candidates contesting the 1,882 elective seats must precede printing of ballot papers. Agents of presidential candidates were Thursday apprehensive that the oversight is a legal landmine that could lead to court cases in the near future.

Raised eyebrows

IEBC Chairperson Wafula Chebukati ballot papers jkia

IEBC Chairperson Wafula Chebukati leads the commission in receiving the first batch of ballot papers at JKIA on July 7, 2022.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

The commission raised more eyebrows with the admission by IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati of having only learnt about the arrival of the ballot papers just hours to touchdown at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

The revelation that IEBC commissioners were only notified at 8pm on Wednesday suggested an “ambush” in the transportation of ballot papers that raised queries about the processes and supervision of printing.

IEBC Chairperson Wafula Chebukati ballot papers jkia

The first batch of ballot papers when they arrived at JKIA on July 7, 2022.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

Delayed gazettement

But it is not just the arrival of the ballot papers that IEBC is facing questions over. Agents of presidential candidates, led by Mr Paul Mwangi for Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party flagbearer Raila Odinga, termed the printing of papers without gazettement of the list of the candidates as an illegality that could lead to the entire electoral process being challenged in court.

“How can IEBC print ballot papers without gazettement of candidates? As of now, there are no legitimate candidates until the gazette notice is out and therefore constitutional issues arise from the process,” Mr Mwangi said.

IEBC blames the delay in gazettement of August 9 General Election candidates on challenges at the Government Printer, saying, the signed list was submitted to the institution on June 30.

While receiving the first batch of 128 pallets of ballot papers at JKIA, Mr Chebukati said the delay in printing “is beyond our control.”

“We submitted the list of candidates (contesting the August General Election) to the Government Printer on June 30. It is a list of 16,098. The Government Printer has been having challenges in finalising printing of the gazette notice. It is bulky, with the data that is in the notice containing things like symbols of candidates,” Mr Chebukati said.

He said the Government Printer developed technical hitches while printing photos of candidates. The IEBC boss, however, added that the gazette notice could be out by the end of Thursday.

“I am told they will have it out by the close of business today. But, as a commission, we submitted this on June 30 and what happened in the Government Printer is beyond our control. But we hope that by the end of the day, the gazette notice will be out,” he said.

Economical with the truth

But Mr Chebukati’s suggestion that the commission had fulfilled its legal mandate of publishing the names of candidates in the election, and that the Government Printer was standing in the way of the process, was met with derision by a source at the institution, who said IEBC was being economical with the truth and diverting attention from itself.

Documents in our possession show that the document from IEBC was received at the Government Printer on Friday, July 1. In a note accompanying the material, IEBC Chief Executive Marjan Hussein asked the printer to “please urgently publish the same on a special issue of the Kenya Gazette dated July 1, 2022.”

In essence, IEBC was asking the Government Printer to publish the document and distribute it on the same day received.

The source told the Daily Nation last evening that it required at least 10 days to compile the gazette notice, given the bulkiness of the document. The list included eight pages on the appointment of County and Constituency Returning Officers, 208 pages of presidential, governor, Senate, National Assembly and Woman Representative candidates, 450 pages of candidates for Member of County Assembly and 850 pages of polling stations. The document had 1,516 pages in total.

“It would have been technically impossible to publish such a bulky document within the time the IEBC asked in the letter to us,” said the source, whose identity the Daily Nation cannot reveal because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Printing of ballot papers

The printing of ballot papers before the publishing of the candidates in the Kenya Gazette raised questions about when, technically, publishing is deemed to have happened.

While IEBC cited the letter to the Government Printer as proof of publication, the source at the printer said that publication happens when the document has been printed and is available to the public, not when it is sent for processing.

Questions have also been raised about the speed with which the Greek printer delivered on the IEBC assignment, as Inform Lykos (Hellas) SA Holdings’ delivery of the first batch of the ballots in Nairobi yesterday morning came just eight days after Mr Marjan’s letter to the Government Printer.

Among the issues IEBC is grappling with is the provision of access by the media and political parties to the process of tallying and transmission of results. At the core of the dilemma is the suggestion by the commission that, for this election, it will use photographs of results declaration forms, rather than alphanumeric data of the results, as the primary data source.

Real-time transmission

This could delay real-time transmission of data as IEBC will have to manually key in the results from the tens of thousands of photographs of forms shared by returning officers.

IEBC has invited media organisations to formally be part of the tallying and transmission process and, yesterday Mr Churchill Otieno, President of the Kenya Editor’s Guild, told the Daily Nation that “by law, the media have a duty to report the results as declared at polling stations”, and that the granting of access to the data by IEBC “is not a favour”.

There have been proposals to firm up the granting of access with clear and written guidelines defining how journalists will access the results, but Mr Otieno said last evening that “the Kenya Editors Guild’s Executive Council is looking into the matter and will issue a statement on its position next week”. Mr Marjan yesterday also failed to come clean on who supervised the printing of the ballot papers in Greece, only saying that the entire batch will be delivered in 30 days.

“Given the 30-day timeline, the commission submitted everything by June 30,” Mr Marjan said at Bomas of Kenya.

This means that printing of the ballot papers started on Friday which is July 1, just a day after IEBC submitted the bulky list to the Government Printer.

Voter register audit report

IEBC is also on the spot for failing to make public the KPMG voter register audit report one month after it was handed to Mr Chebukati. Without giving a definite date when the report will be made public, Mr Chebukati said they are still developing the implementation matrix before releasing it “soon”.

“The CEO is still writing the implementation matrix of the report before we share it out,” Mr Chebukati said.

On the use of the manual voter register, IEBC insisted it will use the digital roll and only resort to the manual register as the last resort in the event electronic kits fail. IEBC said the move is informed by the Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling on the presidential election petition that saw the win of President Uhuru Kenyatta nullified. The commission said it would only revert to the manual register if another court order is issued quashing the 2017 one.

Last resort

“We are printing it but it will only be used as a last resort,” Mr Chebukati said. Commissioner Abdi Guliye said there is no difference between the manual and digital register since the latter is derived from the former.

“This notion that the biometric register is different from the digital one is misleading. There is no way you can be in the principal register and fail to be in the digital one,” Mr Guliye said.

Mr Odinga on Tuesday called for the use of the manual register, saying, it is key to ensuring the credibility of the polls and that no voter is disenfranchised.

Deputy President William Ruto’s presidential agent, Veronica Maina, asked IEBC to tell Kenyans how voters would be identified at the polling station.

“If a manual register will be used, what is the protocol for using it? Will 100 people for instance get into a room and be identified or how will it be done. The commission needs to confidently tell Kenyans about this” Ms Maina said.

Independent presidential aspirants

IEBC also insisted that it would not clear other independent presidential aspirants based on the ruling by Justice Anthony Mrima that termed the requirement by independent candidates to submit copies of their supporters’ identity cards when seeking clearance to vie as unconstitutional and one that contravenes the Data Protection Act.

Mr Owiye, however, said the law doesn’t act retrospectively and has appealed the court decision terming it not in line with the constitution and electoral regulations. Mr Chebukati further emphasised that the commission followed the law and regulations in clearing candidates.

“As at the time of clearing the candidates, we followed the constitution and election regulations. We did not use our own laws,” Mr Chebukati said. IEBC also fought off allegations that it engaged in illegality by printing ballot papers without the gazettement of the list of candidates.

The commission said it is only printing ballot papers for areas that are not affected by the court cases.

Mr Chebukati, however, urged the Judiciary to conclude all the cases by the end of this week or else IEBC would go ahead with printing of ballot papers “because of strict timelines”.

Fly to Greece

In order to improve on its transparency, the commission said all presidential agents would fly to Greece between July 15 and 20 to witness the printing of the presidential ballot papers.

The commission distanced itself from allegations that it colluded with Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula in awarding the Greek firm the ballot paper printing tender.

“I have seen some papers profile me against Mr Wetang’ula. Apart from being a Bukusu like me, I have never sat with an individual to discuss procurement and it’s sad that politicians can sit somewhere to discuss the character of the chairman,” Mr Chebukati said.

Additional reporting Mercy Simiyu