By Martin Mutua

Kenyans are now guaranteed their names will be in electronic voter register when they vote next year and it will not cost the Sh3.9 billion the electoral body had budgeted.

Not only will the offer by the Canadian Government to donate the equipment bring relief to Kenyans, but it will also raise the question why it was made to look so expensive and the procurement process that difficult and complicated in the first place.

It will also draw attention to the probable reasons internal rivalry and claims of corruption in and outside Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission led to the cancellation of the tenders for the Biometric Voter Register. But the President and Prime Minister reinstated the gadget.

What is even more intriguing, apart from the ease with which Canada will supply the kits, is the fact that whereas IEBC had wanted to buy 9,000 kits for the exercise, the Canadian Government has offered 6,000 more, bringing the total to15, 000.

The Chairman of the Parliamentary Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee (CIOC) and Mandera Central MP Abdikadir Mohammed said this during a media briefing at Parliament Buildings, Thursday.

Abdikadir disclosed the ongoing talks between Kenya and Canada seemed to have sealed the deal.

He said the Canadian Government will procure the equipment through a concessionary loan to Kenya, and, therefore, IEBC will not spend a single coin on the equipment.

“This means IEBC can now use the initial Sh3.9 billion it had budgeted (for BVR) on other items for the process,” he added.

The move now ends the saga around the procurement of the BVR kits that has dominated the public debate for two months now.

Political intrigues, vested interests, and wheeler dealing and broking for various companies by individuals had threatened to stall the electronic voter registration, as groups fought to outdo each other in the award of tender.

Accusations and counter-accusations flew around the country over which company should be awarded or denied the tender.  At one point IEBC team led by Isaack Hassan decided to do away with the hi-tech and more efficient process.

However, the breakthrough did not come easy: It took the intervention of President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga after IEBC chose the manual system that is partly blamed for the mess and manipulation of 2007 election results.

Public outrage

It was also the recommendation of Justice Johann Krigler Commission that the country had to drop the unreliable manual system for the electronic version if it was to avoid the suspicions and bloodshed of the last elections. This was the same message US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton brought when she came to Kenya a fortnight ago.

The cancellation of BVR tender triggered public outrage with some presidential aspirants – Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, Deputy Mrime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, Narc-Kenya’s Martha Karua, Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth and Raila – criticising the decision.

It was against the backdrop of the outrage that Kibaki and Raila met Hassan’s team last week. The cost-saving and less complicated process of soliciting the kits from other governments was agreed upon at the meeting.

The Government was then tasked to negotiate with other governments to circumvent the bureaucratic State procurement rules to fast track the acquisition.

Hassan had told the meeting his commission preferred the BVR system, but had been bogged down by “cumbersome procurement laws and procedures, political and vendor rivalry”.

The onus is now on the IEBC to declare its roadmap for the March 4, elections to stem rising tension and speculation.

Whereas the IEBC has indicated that voter registration is scheduled to start next month, when other processes such as civic education begin is not clear.

Hassan had conceded that there was widespread disapproval of manual registration of voters.  Pressure from political leadership, Parliament, the Executive, and civil society, he said, made them to review the earlier decision.

The pace was equally set by the Cabinet a fortnight ago when under the chairmanship of the President drew its weight behind the BVR system. This, they argued, would ensure a credible election through a process firewalled against manipulation.

Clinton first met President Kibaki, then Raila, House Speaker Kenneth Marende, Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, and IEBC commissioners. In the meeting with Marende, Mrs Clinton is said to have impressed upon the Speaker that the electronic voting system was the way to go.

US WATCHING KENYA

 “It is safer to use electronic voting as opposed to a manual system,” Clinton is said to have told the Speaker according to sources that attended the meeting at Parliament Buildings.

The sources said Clinton told Marende the US Government was ready and willing to offer financial and technical support to the IEBC to execute its electoral mandate.

The source further said that Clinton told the Speaker that the recommendations of the Kriegler Commission were clear if post-election violence were to be avoided.

She was also reported to have suggested IEBC should be allowed to source the skits directly from the manufacturers, as opposed to using “bureaucratic” systems where brokers are involved.

Saying that “too much is at stake for Kenya,” she appealed to Kenyans to build on the success of the 2010 Referendum on the Constitution and conduct elections that will entice investors.

“The world will be watching Kenya. The country is viewed as the leader in East. One bad election can take away all that,” she warned.

Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee IEBC Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission