Scandal begs for restoration of electoral system’s credibility
Wednesday June 14 2017
The National Elections Conference over the first three days of this week was supposed to present an ideal opportunity for President Uhuru Kenyatta and his main rival, Mr Raila Odinga, to jointly assure a jittery nation of their commitment to peaceful campaigns and pledge to accept the election results, win or lose, as the guarantee to a peaceful aftermath.
It was also supposed to afford the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission a chance to showcase its readiness to manage a flawless election and assure sceptics that it was committed to delivering a free, fair and credible poll not influenced by any of the contenders.
Instead, the outcome of the conference was a veritable implosion as leaders of the key parties devoted time to sniping at each other, prior to the bombshell revelation of ballot paper procurement that may have been influenced by one of the main election contenders.
Reports directly linking President Kenyatta and his family in the IEBC’s purchase of election materials further discredit an electoral management body already tainted by bungled procurement.
While no proof has been offered to back the claim of an attempt to rig this year’s General Election, the very mention of the President hosting and being hosted by interested parties, even if an innocent encounter, as happens with so many other business groups, is enough to lend credence to Mr Odinga’s allegations.
But, more explosively, they raise serious questions about whether the IEBC has been compromised to the point of giving ballot paper printing contracts to entities linked to contenders who would have an interest in influencing the outcome.
When Mr Odinga raised his objections to the contract at the conference on Wednesday, it was not the first time he was doing so. But this time he directly linked key Jubilee Party operatives to the Dubai-based Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing, the company that was granted the tender by the IEBC without competitive bidding.
He also took the IEBC to task for failure to take action against President Kenyatta for employing public resources in his campaign, contrary to provisions of the Elections Act and the Election Offences Act.
That all might not turn out as planned at the conference was seen early on when President Kenyatta failed to show up at Kenyatta International Convention Centre to address the gathering and, alongside Mr Odinga and other contestants, publicly sign the pledge for peaceful campaigns.
Instead, he chose to continue with his campaign tour of the Rift Valley and then address the conference through a live television broadcast from Eldoret State Lodge. He duly pledged to run a peaceful campaign, accept the results and peacefully hand over power if defeated.
The second is a point he likes making to contrast Mr Odinga, who usually qualifies any commitment to respect the results with the rider on if the elections are free and fair.
On that score, he took digs at Mr Odinga, urging him to likewise commit to accept the election results if he loses. He implicitly accused the opposition chief of threatening to disrupt the peace if defeated and also hit out at his frequent criticism of the IEBC, likening it to attacks on democracy.
When his turn came, Mr Odinga hit back in like terms—and then released the explosive accusations that caught Jubilee off-guard and left IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati and his team scrambling for cover.
Mr Odinga’s initial accusation on the floor did not generate that much of a reaction because he did not provide much in the way of detail. But the following day, The Star newspaper came out with an exposé detailing how President Kenyatta met representatives of the Dubai-based company in Nairobi and the United Arab Emirates before allegedly introducing them to IEBC officers to get the tender.
The same day, Mr Odinga’s campaign chief Musalia Mudavadi publicly named President Kenyatta’s influential younger brother Muhoho as Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing’s representative in Kenya. That’s when it became clear that things were spiralling out of control.
Frantic attempts by Mr Chebukati and election commission CEO Ezra Chiloba took a comical turn when they offered to fly President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga to Dubai so that they could verify Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing’s capacity to print and deliver ballot papers on schedule.
It seems to have been lost on the IEBC bosses that the issue is not whether the company has the technical wherewithal but why it got the tender outside the public procurement laws. The IEBC also resorted to direct contract when giving French firm Safran Identity and Security the tender for supply of electronic voter identification systems and vote count transmission systems.
Mr Chebukati was on Wednesday at pains to explain Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing’s capacity to deliver on time, past experience with IEBC requirements and that, due to delays caused by procurement disputes, there was no time to float the tender afresh and still hold the elections on schedule.
That argument was like a copy-and-paste job from the justification for the Safran tender. It was the same argument advanced by the previous IEBC commissioners for dispensing with procurement laws ahead of the 2013 elections.
And it was the same argument used by the IEBC’s predecessor, the Interim Independent Electoral Commission, for the election materials procurement that resulted in the so-called ‘Chickengate Scandal’. It resulted in officials of British security printing firm Smith and Ouzmann’s conviction by a London court for bribery.
The latest scandal to hit the IEBC, however, is not just about officers probably engaging in crooked procurement. It is more serious for it touches on the involvement of officers at the very apex of government who have a direct stake in the electoral outcome.
With just 53 days to the elections, urgent steps might be required to restore credibility of the electoral system.
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