With billions unaccounted for, can IEBC handle fresh referendum?

IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati in Kisumu on June 26, 2018. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

The electoral agency is on the spot over billions of shillings lost in the run-up to the last election.

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission chairman Wafula Chebukati is on the spotlight as the country mulls over a referendum. The fresh plebiscite will cost Kenyans Sh12 billion.

A report by Auditor General Edward Ouko for the year ended June, 2017 was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday. It showed the agency cannot account for Sh9.5 billion.

The renewed push for referendum has politicians calling for reconstitution of the IEBC, which saw the exit of four out of the seven commissioners.

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Some of the queries raised in the audit include the award of a Sh1.1 billion transport contract, reportedly procured at the IEBC county offices, despite having no procurement officer at the time.

Ouko said, “Most of the contracts were awarded based on predetermined budgetary allocation issued from the headquarters … it is impossible to confirm the expenditure of Sh1,142,635,000 was fully controlled and that the value for money was obtained on transport services.”

On October 8, Chebukati said the electoral agency is ready to conduct a third referendum.

Asked if IEBC has the budget, the chairman said a referendum is not an activity that is budgeted for in advance. At a given time, the agency will seek funds from the Treasury, Chebukati told the Standard.

But the audit report further questions IEBC’s ability to manage funds, citing a contract awarded to supply badges at Sh44 million. Ouko pointed an excess payment of Sh34 million.

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Thirdway Alliance has proposed a referendum to introduce a seven-year one-term presidency. Party leader Ekuru Aukot also wants a shift to 194 members of National Assembly and the Senate. The current number is 417. Aukot is also pushing to abolish nominations in both Houses.

Analysts say if the intention of the referendum is to cut costs, Kenyans still are unsure that whatever will be saved after reducing governance slots will be put to good use.

The agency’s image was tarnished following the 2017 bungled presidential polls, which were nullified by the Supreme Court. Although there are questions about IEBC’s credibility, the chairman says it has what it takes to get the job done.

NASA co-principal Musalia Mudavadi is calling for an overhaul of the current team, while some legislators push for an interim office that can be put together to oversee the referendum.

Independent Electoral and Boundaries CommissionWafula ChebukatiAuditor General Edward OukIEBC