President Uhuru Kenyatta's delay in signing IEBC bills interfering with polls timelines

Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on electoral reforms co-chairmen James Orengo and Kiraitu Murungi. There are fears that the deadlines for implementation of its recommendations may not be met. (PHOTO: BONIFACE OKENDO/ STANDARD)

The delay to begin recruitment of new electoral commissioners has, once again, stirred debate on the country's preparedness to hold elections on schedule.

There are concerns that the country will not meet the September 30 deadline for the recruitment of new electoral commissioners following revelations that the bill to guide the process is yet to be assented to by President Uhuru Kenyatta. This in turn might interfere with the August 2017 elections date.

It is the signing of the Electoral Laws (Amendment) Bill into law that sets in motion the process of recruiting new Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) commissioners as recommended by a parliamentary select committee on electoral reforms.

"That in light of the fast-approaching date of the next General Election, the processes relating to the appointment of the new commissioners be undertaken with expedition and be concluded by September 30, 2016," reads a report of the 14-member committee already approved by Parliament.

According to the co-chair of the select committee, Meru Senator Kiraitu Murungi, the decision to set the September 30 deadline was to allow the new commissioners adequate time to prepare for the 2017 elections.

But about the delays, he explained that once the committee handed in its recommendations to Parliament, the matter was out of its hands.

"The committee was informed by the view that new commissioners must be in office at least six months to the next election. However, the report and the bills were out of our hands the moment we handed them over to Parliament. But the President is committed to the process, and as far as I know, he is going to sign the electoral bill into law," Mr Kiraitu said.

But some members of the committee are worried that failure to meet the deadlines could jeopardise the original intentions of the select committee and mar preparations for the next elections.

"The deadline will not be met," said Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen with finality. The committee expected that things would flow smoothly, but the party-hopping debate delayed everything, he added.

Suna East MP Junet Mohammed said: "The deadlines were there for a reason. They were not there just for the sake of it. We are almost in the middle of the month, and I cannot confidently say that we are going to meet the deadline. If we don't meet the deadlines, we risk losing the gist of the whole process."

Even assuming that the President assents to the bill today, it will still require another 21 days before it takes effect, which means that the country will still have to wait for another three weeks before the process of appointing the IEBC selection panel starts.

The selection panel will consist of seven members who will recruit new commissioners to steer next year's General Elections slated for August 8.

"The appointment of members of the panel could further delay the process, thereby delaying the exit of the current commissioners," said Ainabkoi MP Samuel Chepkonga, who also chairs the National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs Committee.

According to Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Junior, the President has power to reduce the commencement date of the bill from 21 days to ensure the timelines are as close as possible to what the committee envisaged.

"If the committee sat for 30 days, there is no reason why the bill should commence after 21 days. The best thing the President can offer the country is to declare that the bill takes effect immediately... There are some bills the President has signed in record time," Mr Kilonzo said.

The head of the CORD secretariat, Norman Magaya, said the timelines and process of picking new commissioners are in the proposed law and any further delay might jeopardise the next polls.

"The President can choose to delay as much as he wishes but what is clear is that IEBC officials are going home," Mr Magaya said.

The timelines relate to the selection panel inviting applications to fill the positions within seven days and a similar time frame for the President on receipt of recommendations from the panel to forward the list of nominees to the National Assembly. Yesterday, IEBC stated that getting the new commissioners was a political process.