Revealed: Election equipment with crucial data stolen before elections
An electoral agency document presented to Parliament has revealed how the commission lost election equipment worth billions of shillings that contained crucial election data in areas considered ODM leader Raila Odinga’s strongholds.
The document presented to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Assembly by Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chief executive Marjan Hussein Marjan raises questions on the credibility of the country’s past elections.
The Kisumu County warehouse and Muhoroni, Emuhaya, Karachuonyo, Kajiado North and Nyando constituencies are listed as the areas affected by the theft. According to Mr Marjan, the theft may have happened between 2013 and 2021 and includes the loss of 952 Electronic Voter Identification System (Evid) laptops, 125 Biometric voter registration (BVR) kits and 1,315 hard disks. In some areas, the theft occurred just after the mass registration of voters a few months before the 2022 General Election.
Some 952 Evid laptops were stolen at the Kisumu County warehouse, four laptops and two power cables were stolen in Emuhaya, two laptops in Nyando, 31 BVR kits and 45 chargers in Karachuonyo and two Dell laptops and a CVR server in Kajiado North constituency.
In Muhoroni Constituency, one Dell laptop, a heavy-duty military-grade suitcase, two fingerprint scanners, three flash disks, a backpack, a laptop charger, two cameras and a USB hub were stolen in 2021.
There were also thefts of 21 Dell laptops and four generators in Tharaka-Nithi, while in Marakwet West constituency 26 Evid laptops were lost. In the Nandi County warehouse, 41 laptops, 10 fingerprint scanners, seven logistics cameras, 104 rechargeable batteries, three generators and 23 full BVR kits were lost.
PAC, chaired by nominated MP John Mbadi, had requested Mr Marjan to provide a conclusive response to the commission’s audit queries for the 2020/21 financial year. As the CEO was going through his answers, Mr Mbadi led him to the pages that highlighted the areas affected by the theft of the election equipment.
“This loss is so huge that it may have been an inside job. Because how do you steal 952 Evid laptops from one warehouse? Only a Canter (small lorry) can carry such a large number of laptops. I get the feeling that IEBC was not in control,” Mr Mbadi said, adding, “so how safe is an election in this country?”
The revelation by the PAC chairman seemed to have caught Mr Marjan by surprise. He nonetheless told the committee that he could not put his mind to why the theft only happened in Mr Odinga’s strongholds.
“I am more concerned about the theft of the election equipment as opposed to why they got lost,” said Mr Marjan, noting that the theft in some cases happened even as the police manned the warehouses.
Mr Odinga has on many occasions accused the IEBC of failing to conduct credible elections in 2013, 2017 and 2022. He has said that he will not recognise the election of President William Ruto in the 2022 General Election and has organised countrywide demonstrations on March 20.
Mr Marjan’s attempts to assure the committee that the BVR kits lost in 2013 were moribund and could not be used and that the election data in the 952 Evid laptops were encrypted and therefore safe were dismissed by the MPs.
The investigations by Mr Samuel Mwangi, a Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) officer, revealed that the Muhoroni theft happened on October 29, 2021, at the Huduma Centre in Chemelil ward where the registration clerks had been keeping the kits after voter registration. The investigations showed that all the data of the newly registered voters, which had been saved in a flash disk, got lost.
“The details of the 61 voters who had been newly registered were not backed up and got lost in the flash disk,” said Mr Mwangi. He indicated that on November 6, 2021, “one suspect namely Charles Otieno, who is a known criminal”, was arrested in the Awasi area while in possession of a flash disk, which was positively identified by the registration clerks.
“Upon arrest, the suspect maliciously damaged the recovered flash disk. He was taken to court for plea taking and was remanded at Koru police station for 14 days,” said Mr Mwangi, noting that it might take longer to recover the kits. He advised IEBC to recall the 61 voters for re-registration.
The IEBC document also shows that in November 2019, unknown people entered the IEBC warehouse at the Kisumu National Cereals and Produce Board premises and made away with 952 Evid laptops.
The theft was discovered on November 26, 2019, when the county election manager, Mr Patrick Odame, in the company of other staff members, visited the warehouse seeking some election materials. They noted that the boxes containing the Evid laptops had been tampered with and that some laptop bags were empty. The matter was reported at the Kisumu central police station.
“The scene of crime officers visited and documented the scene,” the report says. Thereafter, the county election manager deployed a team of casuals to undertake an inventory of all the commission assets within the warehouse and it was established that 952 Evid laptops had been stolen on unknown dates. Interestingly, there was no breakage to the warehouse,” the report states.
Mr Mwangi linked the theft to the change of guard at the Kisumu warehouse. He traced the theft from 2012 when Ms Lilian Akinyi Konge, then the regional warehouse supply chain manager assistant until July 2019, handed over to Mr Stanley Ng’ethe Kabue. Ms Konge was deployed to Bomet County as the South Rift supply chain management assistant. The handing and taking over of the warehouse responsibilities were done in the presence of the County Election Manager (CEM) John Cox.
During the handing and taking over, the DCI report indicated that the physical count of Evid laptops was 2,245 pieces while Mr Cox’s inventory report, which was done five months later, showed the Evid laptops to be 1,293 pieces, revealing a deficit of 952 pieces.
No arrest is yet to be made, but the DCI officers pointed to the possibility of internal theft “since there was no breakage and the suspect seemed to have knowledge of the warehouse”.
The document notes that Mr Kabue reported to work on July 8, 2019, and immediately after taking over, including the warehouse keys, absconded duty and “absented himself from work severally” without official permission from his immediate supervisor, the Kisumu county election manager.
“He never let the CEM access the warehouse, even during the time he was absconding duty. After realising that the theft had happened, the CEM changed all the warehouse padlocks in a bid to secure it and obviate further theft of the commission property,” Mr Mwangi said.
Despite the theft, Mr Kabue is yet to be investigated, with Mr Mwangi telling the IEBC to liaise with the DCI to expedite the investigations “to help the commission make a conclusive decision on the Kisumu warehouse theft”.
Mr Mwangi noted that Mr Kabue was served with show-cause letters by the county election manager and subsequently by the director human resource and administration. “He failed to respond to the same, resulting in his salary being stopped by the IEBC. He was later summarily dismissed from the commission for gross misconduct but did not lodge an appeal against the dismissal.”
That Mr Kabue never appealed against the decision for dismissal made by the commission could be a probable indicator of his involvement in the vice, adds the report. The DCI report indicated that Mr Kabue’s dismissal was precipitate and that the commission ought to have waited for the conclusion of the investigation.
The DCI report points to the likelihood that “the theft was executed by an internal staff of the IEBC and most likely Mr Kabue”.
“He absconded duty without official permission and would appear and disappear regularly at work and it is possible that during this period he was executing criminal acts,” the document states.
The document also notes that there is “a likelihood of existing cartels within the commission’s ICT offices and supply chain management offices colluding and stealing ICT-related items for their own benefit”. This is backed up by a trend in previous cases reported from the then-commission regions and current county offices.
There are also fears that the theft could have extended to other county offices and warehouses but remains unnoticed.