Polls credibility hangs in the balance on IEBC challenges

Voter registration

Eldoret residents queue to register as voters at Huduma Kenya on November 1, 2021. Analysts say the IEBC must show it has created systems that cannot be manipulated. 

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati has told stakeholders preparations are on course.
  • A deficit of Sh4 billion was blamed for limited enhanced voter registration.


 

The hope of a free, fair and credible election remains distant nine months to the General Election as a combination of factors leaves the electoral agency clutching straws.

Like it happened in 2013 and 2017, all indications point to a last-minute rush by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and other government agencies in terms of procurement, legal reforms, budgetary requirements and operational execution of their mandates.

While some of the failures lie squarely with IEBC, others have been brought upon them by the Executive and Legislature with unmet budgetary requirements and slow legal reforms being the sticky points in the preparations for the 2022 elections.

Added to that is the attempt by political players to exert influence over the commission. For instance, Deputy President William Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party has recently written to IEBC regarding its participation in the Technical Working Committee and the National Multi-Sectoral Consultative Forum on Election Preparedness. Politicians are also carrying on with campaigns without regard to the law on campaigning, perhaps confident that the commission will not take any action.

According to Mr Felix Owuor, an elections expert and the Executive Director of the Electoral Law and Governance Institute for Africa, the country is lagging in crucial preparatory activities.

“In every election since 1992, issues that need to be reformed or put in place ahead of the next election are identified... However, the same are not addressed in the subsequent elections but somehow we think the country will get it right,” says Mr Owuor. “It is a phenomenon that is called the inconclusive electoral cycle and Kenya is a leading culprit in this.” 

For Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, the preparations for elections so far do not inspire confidence. “The preparations are sluggish. For example, there are procurement problems still unresolved,” he said.

Political players

But the commission has dismissed doubts about its preparedness. 

“So far, the Commission is on course and is committed to delivering on its Constitutional mandate,” IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati said in response to Chief Justice Martha Koome who had questioned IEBC’s readiness.

The Public Procurement Administrative Review Board has in recent times annulled two tenders for essential election materials: the Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System (Kiems) kits, and ballot papers and forms. 

Vendor wars and the influence of political players have often resulted in direct procurement, with the suppliers identified very close to the elections. In a recent interview with the Sunday Nation, Mr Chebukati said they’d not hesitate to go for direct procurement if the vendor wars persist.

“As the chairman of the Commission, I am very worried about this trend because what we are witnessing is purely business interests and has nothing to do with irregular procurement,” he said. 

But the commission has also come under scrutiny for going for companies that have in the past been involved in shambolic elections. Smartmatic, which IEBC had settled on for the Kiems kits, for instance, was the supplier of biometric voter verification machines that failed in the Uganda elections in January. Inform Lykos which had been awarded the ballot papers tender, has been linked to the last-minute postponement of polls in Nigeria in February 2019 after it failed to deliver ballot papers on time.

In terms of budgetary requirements, IEBC had requested to be allocated Sh40 billion in the current financial year. However, it was allocated Sh4 billion less. 

Electoral reforms

IEBC has blamed the inadequate resourcing for the delay in conducting the enhanced continuous voter registration (ECVR), which concluded early this month. It had targeted six million new voters but got less than two million.

There is no guarantee of a second ECVR as per the Elections Operations Plan (EOP). The procurement of a firm to conduct an audit of the voter roll is also yet to be undertaken. In the EOP, this ought to have been done in October. 

Yet another hurdle for IEBC is the electoral reforms that were to be undertaken. 

“The Justice and Legal Affairs Committee ought to have fast-tracked minimum electoral reforms which are necessary to secure credible 2022 elections. The reason for going for the minimum reforms route is because a lot of time was lost in the BBI process, which would have comprehensively reformed the electoral process,” says Mr Owuor.

Internally, IEBC still has several vacancies in positions that are key to the delivery of the elections. Both the CEO and deputy CEO positions have been held by people in acting capacity since April 2018. The commission is yet to recruit someone to take over ta the Directorate of Voter Education, Partnerships & Communications since former holder Immaculate Kasait left for the Data Commission job. The Directorate of ICT also lacks a substantive director since James Muhati left. The same is true for the Directorate of Research Boundaries & Development. Besides the senior positions, there are also vacancies at the constituency level. 

While many of the challenges the commission faces may not be of their making, political commentator Dismas Mokua says IEBC must demonstrate to all that they have created predictable systems and that they are free from the shackles of external political players and vendors. 

“The only reason why people are going to place confidence in IEBC is if every stakeholder understands and appreciates the process. When we go to elections, the process should be clear to all Kenyans. ,” he says. 

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