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Referendum will cost Sh14b, IEBC tells MPs

By Moses Nyamori | October 29th 2020

Acting Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) CEO Marjan Hussein when he appeared before Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) on Wednesday, October 28, 2020. [David Njaaga, Standard]

It will cost the taxpayers at least Sh14 billion to conduct a referendum, the electoral agency has revealed.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) yesterday said it had done estimates for the pending Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) referendum.

The commission’s acting Chief Executive Officer Hussein Marjan said the estimates were calculated based on the 2017 General Election’s 19.6 million voter register roll.

“We have already sat down and asked ourselves what is required for the exercise. It will cost about Sh14 billion though we are still fine-tuning that,” said Marjan, adding: “That is an estimate which is based on the 19.6 million registered voters, but the number may have increased because of the continuous listing of new voters".

IEBC said it was already preparing for the referendum and the 2022 General Election.

The disclosure by the commission comes barely two days after President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga officially launched the report, which is a product of their March 9, 2018 handshake.

Allies of Uhuru and Raila are pushing for the referendum to be conducted at least one year before the next General Election, which has shifted the focus on the commission’s preparedness.

Currently, proponents of the proposed constitutional amendments are trying to build consensus on some of the contentious issues, such as the mandate of the Senate, before collection of a million signatures of registered voters.

Marjan made the revelation when he appeared before the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for 2017/18 audit queries.

His response was triggered by PAC chairperson Opiyo Wandayi, who asked him to update the country on the state of the commission’s preparedness for the exercise.

Raila had in a recent press conference said the referendum would not cost the country more than Sh2 billion.

“A referendum does not need to cost more than Sh2 billion, so we should not be told we have no money. We can teach Chebukati how to do it so we have everything needed for a country to do a referendum,” said Raila.

But the commission has demonstrated that it would cost more than what Raila had said, citing cost of transport, personnel and other expenses in conducting an election.

In a recent interview, Commissioner Boya Molu explained that the agency would need to deploy about 350,000 staff and not less than 50,000 vehicles on hire on Election Day.

Molu explained that hiring each of the vehicles costs not less than Sh10,000 per day.

The 350,000 poll officials include Presiding Officers and their deputies, clerks and at least two police officers for every polling station.

“On election day, sometimes we are forced to hire choppers because there are no vehicles to hire. Once we have hired the 350,000, we train, feed, deploy and feed them again on Election Day. IEBC does not generate its own revenue. We either change our laws or we live with it,” he said in the interview.

A similar explanation was given by Marjan, who said one of the most critical cost drivers in the election was the total number of registered voters.

He explained that the total number of registered voters determined the number of polling stations – 700 voters per polling station – which in turn determined the number of temporary polls and security officials to be deployed, as well as the number of vehicles to be hired.

“Taking into consideration that the number of registered voters will always increase due to continuous registration, there will always be an incremental increase in election cost. The commission can only optimize the cost by reducing the number of security features in a ballot paper to reduce the cost per paper,” Marjan said.

He further argued that due to the mistrust amongst political players, the country had increasingly legislated on the use of technology in elections, thus making elections very expensive.

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