Did firm that printed 2013 ballots bribe to get deals?

Ballot papers
                                     Ballot papers                               PHOTO BY REUTERS

Kenya: The international security printing firm that printed ballots for 2013 General Election could be blacklisted by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

Smith and Ouzman has been formally charged for using bribery to secure printing contracts in Africa following investigations by Serious Fraud Office (SFO), a United Kingdom investigations unit.

And now, Kenya’s electoral body, IEBC, has given indication that it might have to cut ties with Smith and Ouzman.

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IEBC communications director Tabitha Mutemi told The Standard on Saturday that the firm, although awarded contracts to print ballot papers for 2013 General Election, the commission declined to engage it for printing of ballot paper for by-elections that followed. Instead, the commission used GI Solutions, which won the tender to print ballot papers for the by-elections.

“We will be keenly watching the outcome of these investigations as they will certainly inform our future engagements depending on the outcome. It is also important to note that the Commission did not engage Smith and Ouzman in the supply of ballot papers for recent by-elections in Siaya, Kibwezi West, Matungulu, Bungoma, Bomachoge Borabu and Nyaribari Chache,” she said.

According to Mutemi, the allegations that Smith and Ouzman was under investigations came to the attention of the commission long after the contract had been awarded.

We also established that IEBC is in the process of recruiting a firm that will print ballot papers for the financial year 2014/2015. Indeed, the bids were being opened yesterday.

“Every financial year, IEBC advertises and awards a tender to a qualified local or international firm for supply and delivery of ballot papers on an “as and when required basis”. The procurement process for a firm that will provide ballot papers in the 2014/2015 financial year is ongoing. So far, 12 firms (both local and international) have bought tender documents and bids will be opened on Friday,  March 21, 2014,” she said.

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Intelligence ignored

The Standard on Saturday exclusively reported that Smith and Ouzman was under investigations by SFO. On November 2, 2013, we reported how IEBC wished away advisory from the country’s top Intelligence body, National Intelligence Service that Smith and Ouzman was under investigation and that engaging the firm would cause the country untold embarrassment.

This advisory had been made available to the commission long before the tender was awarded to the said company. Had IEBC paid attention to advice provided by NIS, Kenya would have avoided the embarrassment of getting on a frowned-upon list of four countries that awarded contracts worth millions of shillings to Smith and Ouzman.

Kenya was mentioned alongside Mauritania, Ghana and Somaliland as being, among others, countries that Smith and Ouzman allegedly secured diverse multi-million shilling contracts through bribery.

The company has been sued by Serious Fraud Office in the UK with offences of corruptly agreeing to make payments totaling nearly half a million UK pounds (Sh72 billion), allegedly to influence the award of business contracts.

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Indeed, the process of awarding the tender to Smith and Ouzman by IEBC was itself riddled with controversy.

Justice George Odunga while presiding over a case in which IEBC had been challenged for single sourcing Smith and Ouzman said procurement by public bodies should never be done “indiscriminately and in a clandestine manner.”

IEBC was later given the leeway to proceed to award the contract on the basis of public interest given that there was no sufficient time to competitively procure printing services for ballot papers for the 2013 election.

 Smith & Ouzman Limited was sued together with two of its directors, an employee and an agent for corruptly agreeing to make the payments totaling nearly half a million pounds (Ksh72 billion), contrary to the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906. 

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It was alleged that these payments were used to influence the award of business contracts to the company.

The British nationals, who were sued by SFO include Chris Smith, 70, of East Sussex, the former chairman of Smith and Ouzman Limited, Nick Smith, 42, of East Sussex, the sales and marketing director, Tim Forrester, 45, of East Sussex, the international sales manager Tim Forrester, 45 and Abdirahman Omar, 37, of London, an agent for the company.

The alleged offences were said to have taken place between November 2006 and December 2010 and relate to transactions in Mauritania, Ghana, Somaliland and Kenya.

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IEBC Independent Electoral and Boundaries bribery