By Moses Njagih
Just a week before the arrival of Biometric Voter Register kits as promised by Government, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission is grappling with another internal crisis.
Last month IEBC shuffled 210 constituency coordinators and employed 80 for newly created constituencies, but this administrative decision, officially explained as a way to cut off political and business links the staff might have developed in their former stations, has presented fresh problems.
Apart from setting off an internal crisis by the staff who feel they were unfairly sent to work far-off and in unfamiliar stations, there is also the fear that this could have a negative impact on the planning process as they need time to know their new stations well yet the elections are just a little over 100 days away.
But even more significant is the claim by those affected that the transfers were unilaterally effected by a senior officer in IEBC without, they claim, involvement of the human resource department.
Despite IEBC Chairman Issack Hassan defending the changes, sources within IEBC reveal the shuffle caught staff unprepared and even affected people with health complications that require them to stay within certain areas, either to be close to their doctors or due to climatic conditions.
What is clear, based on our field interviews, is that IEBC must swiftly move to quell the growing discontent among these field officers, officially referred to as Constituency Electoral Coordinators (CEC), because of their critical role in planning for elections, including voter registration and the polling process itself.
Hassan defended the transfers, arguing it was important to move the coordinators as some had become “too cozy” with political players in their areas, something he argued undermined their call to be impartial and independent.
“Some were already doing businesses and other undertakings in their areas, which may not be in the best interests of IEBC as they may create fear they will be partisan in the elections,” added Hassan
Sources within IEBC informed The Standard that senior staff in the electoral body’s HR department was not consulted when the transfers were made.
On the other hand the CECs have fought back with appeals that are now being looked into by the management, with the main complaint being that they were being sent so far away from their former stations that it would take them long to settle and acquire basic knowledge of their new stations like, for example, the wards, registration centres and polling centres.
Claims transfers skewed
Worse still is the feeling “and a strong conviction” among some of the CECs that the transfers were politically instigated; with some claiming it was skewed to favour certain regions.
Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, the CECs warned that the massive transfers, coming close to elections, are likely to have a great impact on the quality and credibility of the polls.
The coordinators said that while they are not opposed to transfers — terming them as necessary before the elections to avoid situations where they might be perceived to e affiliated to some political players over time — the timing angered them.
“We were all expecting the transfers, but it is wrong when they are carried out at this time when it should be an ongoing routine process,’’ complained a coordinator moved from Central to North Eastern Province.
He added: “We will not have time to settle down and understand the dynamics of our new constituencies, create rapport with intelligence machineries and have time to conduct worthwhile voter education due to language barriers. This was not a well-thought-out idea,” he went on.
Also causing discontent is the growing consensus that some of the postings were discriminatory.
Sources told The Standard that coordinators from some regions were given better treatment as they were either not moved in the shuffle, or just moved to the next station within their region.
“It creates suspicion when only two coordinators from Nairobi have been affected, none in Coast while in Nyanza many have also not been affected and those moved have only been taken to constituencies within their regions,” claimed a coordinator moved to Rift Valley from Eastern region.
He added: “We strongly feel and are convinced the process was infiltrated by politics, which is not healthy when the commission is keen to avoid what happened in 2007”.
Some have questioned the logic of retaining the coordinators from Coast Province, allegedly to ensure voter education was not affected due to low literacy levels, and yet the commission went ahead to move those from North Eastern, where literacy levels are even lower.
IEBC North Coast Coordinator Amina Soud, admitted that none of the 21 CECs under her were moved, and disclosed she had requested the electoral body not to move the staff to avoid having voter education affected if new officials who do not know the local dialect were brought in.
She added: “We thought it would be wise to keep the coordinators for the remaining few months then reshuffle them after the polls”.
An affected coordinator from Kisii region said the transfers were “punitive and discriminative”.
He added: “We are psychologically disturbed and are yet to settle despite the enormous challenge ahead of us. Are we supposed to familiarise ourselves with the new stations, prepare for the voter registration or plan how to move our families?”
Hassan said the electoral body is ready to listen to the CECs’ grievances especially if they raised health issues, but ruled that otherwise the transfers would not be rescinded.
“The coordinators signed an agreement with us that they would work anywhere within the country and should thus not complain over the transfers,” said Hassan.
Terming the transfers as normal, IEBC Corporate Communications Manager Ms Tabitha Mutemi discounted claims those transferred would not have enough time to understand the new constituency and this may affect voter education.
“The officials will have had more than six months to acquaint themselves with the areas. The crucial information is documented and mapped. Essentially they have the tools and information they need for the job,” said Ms Mutemi.
“Elections are largely about understanding the process not the physical and social environment. By the time the coordinators are done with voter registration, they will have known more than they need,” she added.
— Additional Reporting by Linah Benyawa and Robert Nyasato