The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission stands on the threshold of making history. Unfortunately this could go two ways: by bungling the tender for the biometric voter registration kit and totally ruining any goodwill it has worked hard to attain and maintain, or by sticking to the procurement rules and delivering a clean election.
Let us say outright that electronic voter registration, if done above board, is the best and most secure form of registration worldwide. A return to manual voter registration as advocated by a section of politicians would be far more risky and open to tampering. But the way things are going, there is every reason to fear that a section of the IEBC, in its zeal to please everybody, is now in real danger of being held captive to various political and business interests.
The manner in which it has handled the Sh3.9 billion biometric voter registration tender speaks volumes about the infighting among board members, the possible emergence of a hidden hand in the process of picking the winning bid, and the shortcomings of the current procurement regulations.
Public opinion is solidly in favour of a transparent procurement process for the biometric kit. This means the tender committee must do its homework before rushing to award the contract. A section of the diplomatic community has expressed confidence in the IEBC team led by the chairman. It is hoped this confidence is not misplaced because what has been seen so far is a frightening level of bungling that now risks tarnishing the electoral body.
No aspersions should be cast on the men and women holding the reins at the IEBC, but they are also human and clearly mistakes have been made with regard to the voter registration kit tender that must be corrected quickly.
One politician was heard saying the IEBC should be left to do its job. That is in order, but when that job involves the fate of an election on which so many things are riding on, including the implementation of the new Constitution and the Kibaki succession, then the IEBC must be ready and willing to accept public criticism and scrutiny.
The Sh3.9 billion tender is not just about supplying biometric kits. The company that wins the contract will also own the software and manage it. In other words, although a hired agent of IEBC, this private company will, to all intents and purposes be entrusted with the blueprint of a critical component of the biggest and most complex General Election in Kenya’s history.
While the IEBC has reassured Kenyans it will be in full control of the voter registration exercise, special care must be taken.
It is therefore important that the tender committee delve fully into the background of the likely winner, looking at, among other things the bid price and technical competencies.
Who really owns the company? Does it have links to local politicians or activists with vested interests in the General Election or any relationship to current political players?