Venezuelan found with IEBC stickers detained at airport

Ballots Jomo Kenyatta International Airport

Customs officials at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on July 21, 2022 detained suspicious election material from a foreigner who had just arrived in the country.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Preparations for the upcoming elections were Thursday thrown into confusion after customs officials at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) detained suspicious election material from a foreigner who had just arrived in the country.

Venezuelan Comarco Gregoria had just landed from London, and while being cleared at 12pm, airport officials noticed, through screening machines, that he had items resembling stickers belonging to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in his luggage.

He was immediately arrested and taken to the JKIA police station for questioning and for his luggage to be searched further.

The search, according to officers at the airport, found that the Venezuelan had 17 rolls of election stickers for various constituencies in his bags.

IEBC officials were then called to the airport to say if they were expecting to receive any election-related material Thursday and why airport security had not been informed of the impending arrival.

JKIA procedures

According to procedures at JKIA, any impending arrival of important cargo by the government is communicated to airport officials in advance for proper security arrangements to be made.

There was a brief standoff as security officers insisted on an explanation from IEBC on why there was a breach of procedure. 

Officials from the electoral agency, already on the spot for lack of transparency on how it is preparing for the elections, stood their ground, insisting that the manner in which the materials arrived in the country was above board.

“The correct position is that today morning, IEBC received stickers to aid labelling and distribution of election materials,” said the commission on its social media handles as the drama was unfolding at the airport.

Dissatisfied with the responses IEBC officials were giving, the officer in charge of JKIA Police Station informed the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), which dispatched its officers to the airport.

By last evening, the Venezuelan and two other people whose identities we could not immediately establish, were being held, as detectives sought to know how they found themselves with the election material.

Not sealed cargo

Additionally, detectives wanted to know why election material considered highly confidential was not being transported as sealed cargo, but by an individual.

IEBC is currently printing ballot papers and other election-related material in Athens, Greece. Inform Lykos was awarded the tender for Sh3 billion despite protests from companies who lost the tender.

A team of electoral commissioners and representatives of presidential candidates is already in Greece to inspect the printing of ballot papers at Inform Lykos. With them are IEBC commissioners Juliana Cherera, Francis Wanderi and Boya Molu.

Ballot papers

According to the electoral agency, the ballot papers, which began arriving on July 7, will continue arriving until July 29, when the last batch is expected to land at JKIA before the August 9 elections.

The commission has been battling claims of infighting on the manner in which election materials are being sourced after a section of officials claimed that they were informed at the last minute of the arrival of the first batch of ballot papers two weeks ago.

IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati was last week hard pressed to explain why there is opaqueness in the process, even between his officials.

“The commission deals with policy, strategy and oversight. That is our work; we make decisions. If it is about printing ballot papers, we tell the secretariat to go and procure a firm,” said Mr Chebukati during a joint interview with journalists of leading media houses. 

He added: “When it comes to printing ballot papers, they give us samples of how they are going to print the papers and if satisfied we tell them to proceed and print.”