Raila rubbishes IEBC on referendum cost, wants agency overhauled

ODM leader Raila Odinga (left), and IEBC acting CEO Marjan Hussein Marjan.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

ODM leader Raila Odinga has dismissed claims that the upcoming referendum will cost the country Sh14 billion, terming the figure outrageous and part of the reasons why Kenya's electoral body must be disbanded. 

In a scathing statement released today, Mr Odinga said assertions by Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) acting CEO Marjan Hussein Marjan during a session in Parliament on Tuesday was an indication of the greed that has rocked the commission. 

He added that the electoral agency and the entire election management system in the country has lost credibility and must therefore be overhauled and streamlined. 

Mr Marjan had told the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee that that figures were based on the country’s 19.6 million registered voters, a figure Sh2 billion shy of an earlier estimation given by IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati in 2018.

But the ODM leader said the figures given by the commission are unrealistic and out of touch with the realities of Kenyans on the ground, insisting that a referendum would cost less than what the Commission is demanding.

“Elections have become one of the major avenues for ripping off the country through various schemes that are never meant to save costs or yield credible results but to line pockets of individuals. Those schemes are evident in the IEBC's latest reasoning,” said Mr Odinga.

Needs fresh team

Mr Odinga said the electoral commission had time and again proved its inability to hold a lean, or credible election, instead robbing Kenyans billions of shillings every election year in a flawed process whose outcomes were mostly contested, an indication that the time for a new team to take up the agency had come.

The ODM party leader reckons that in advanced countries with an established tradition of holding regular elections, the cost of conducting a poll is approximately $1 to $2 per person. 

"There is absolutely no excuse why Kenya, with a long history of holding elections, should pay more," Mr Odinga charged.

He contends that Kenya, with already established institutions including police stations, schools, national and county government offices and a fairly well developed transport infrastructure, should be able to conduct a referendum at no more than Sh2 billion for 20 million voters.

“That kind of impunity cannot be allowed to soil an exercise like the upcoming BBI referendum whose objectives, among others, is to stop the culture of theft of public resources and corruption in public offices. The upcoming referendum is also intended to bring sanity to our election processes including aligning the costs to the global trends. That message needs to get to IEBC,” said the ODM leader.

Under pressure

Mr Marjan had on Tuesday come under fire from MPs, who pressed him to justify the amount which some members termed as exorbitant. Garissa Township MP Aden Duale, a member of the committee, reminded him that he needed to be clear about the exact figure so that a lot of money is not wasted on unnecessary expenditures.

“That is your estimation as the acting CEO, right? Remember you are on record,” Mr Duale said after the report of the Auditor-General on the accounts of the IEBC revealed that the commission spent over Sh700 million on food alone for its staff and security officers during the four days of the 2017 general election.

Mr Marjan told the committee that the commission’s estimation is borrowed from the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) for the 2022 election that has already been submitted to the National Treasury.

The number of elected voters in the country has a bearing on the cost of an election given that the Elections Act provides that a polling station should not exceed 700 registered voters per polling station.

This means that the higher the number of registered voters, the higher the number of polling stations and therefore an increased cost.

In 2018, Mr Chebukati indicated that the country would require at least Sh12 billion for the exercise, an estimation he said was based on the fact that it cost the country Sh12 billion for the commission to conduct a fresh presidential election on October 26, 2017.

“Shortly, we will pick a team to sit with IEBC and itemize what will lead to a cost effective referendum exercise and elections. IEBC seems to be determined never to develop an operational performance that contains costs,” said Mr Odinga said in his statement today.