IEBC tender wars a big tinder in next polls

NATIONAL |

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati with Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyajui during the launch of voter registration at Nakuru Athletics Club. [Kipsang Joseph Standard]

Big tenders and poor planning have for the past two election cycles defined the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) operations, ultimately leading to costly polls.

Late and rushed tendering, tender cancellations, as well as corruption, have also compounded the woes of the electoral agency which saw the country hold one of the most expensive elections in Africa estimated at Sh54.1 billion in 2017.

And yet again, there are telling signs that the 2022 polls will go down as not only one of the most hotly contested but most expensive.

The recent cancellation of IEBC’s international tender for the supply, delivery and maintenance of the Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (Kiems) for the 2022 polls by the procurement board is the clearest indication yet that the commission is again set to spend more money to make up for lost time.

In September, the Public Procurement Administration and Review Board (PPARB) ruled that the tender for the supply, delivery, installation, testing, commissioning, support and maintenance of Kiems and hardware equipment and accessories was illegally awarded.

PPARB directed IEBC to prepare a fresh tender document within 30 days. This not only inconvenienced the election calendar but means the commission has to spend more in re-tendering.

Then there was the scandal with French firm OT Morpho in 2017.

Previously known as Safran Morpho Limited, and later OT-Morpho –before rebranding to Idemia- it is the company that supplied IEBC with the Kiems kits that were to be used to verify the voters’ list before the election and later authenticate the voters with their fingerprints and photos before being allowed to vote.

But as fate would have it, transmission of results on polling day experienced hitches, leading to the Supreme Court nullifying President Uhuru Kenyatta’s win in 2017. This is after the Kiems kits failed massively on voting day.

The supplied Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits failed on election day leading to repeat elections which soared the cost of elections to even greater heights. The repeat election ended up gobbling another Sh12 billion. 

Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits failed on election day. [File, Standard]

This jolted the National Assembly to later pass a recommendation barring the company from doing business in Kenya for 10 years “for violating the Companies Act,” but the High Court overturned the ban in May.

The development followed another in 2013 when the “Chicken gate” scandal emerged and the public lost millions of shillings in the process. It involved Kenyan election and examination officials who were bribed by UK-based printing firm Smith and Ouzman. 

British firm Smith and Ouzman is said to have paid the officials’ Sh50 million to be awarded several printing contracts worth billions of shillings for ballot papers and examinations material in the 2013 General Election.

Guilty of bribery

In January 2016, Kenya was however able to recover Sh52 million lost from the scandal after Smith and Ouzman, the UK firm directors were found guilty of bribing Kenyan election and examinations council officials to win tenders, and were ordered to pay 200 million shillings by a London court.

But IEBC chairperson Wafula Chebukati has blamed the late release of funds by the National Treasury for expensive elections.

Mr Chebukati said it is wrong for the Treasury to only release funds to the Commission at the end of elections cycles, usually the last year to a General Election.

“Delayed disbursement of funding for elections was responsible for rushed procurement of goods and services at inflated costs as vendors take advantage of the commission’s urgency to catch up with the electoral cycle,” he said.

“Such delayed activities have negatively impacted on deployment of electoral technologies having a deleterious effect on the electoral process,” the IEBC chair added.

IEBC chairperson Wafula Chebukati. [Courtesy]

In a situation brief dated September 22, Chebukati also blamed the Treasury, Parliament and the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) noting that they would be held responsible should the 2022 General Election polls not go smoothly.

He faulted Parliament for sitting on laws required to help plan for next year’s elections, the Treasury for cutting and delaying its funding, and the CA for failing to ensure 3G coverage in each of the estimated 53,000 polling stations where results will be declared.

Chebukati further disclosed that the high cost of elections was occasioned by the law which states that polling stations must not have more than 700 voters.

The IEBC launched its enhanced mass voter registration drive on Monday where it is targeting to register new 6 million voters to bring the total to 23.6 million registered voters.

Consequently, the agency estimates that polling stations will increase from 40,883 in 2017 to 53,000 in 2022. In its current expenditure budget for 2022, IEBC has set aside Sh6 billion to hire temporary polling officials, who will include at least five clerks, a presiding officer, and a police officer at every polling station.

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