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Qualifications for chair of IEBC changed in draft Bill

BUSINESS
By | March 30th 2011

By Ben Agina

Alterations by Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo’s office of a Bill to guide the formation of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission have kicked off a storm.

The alterations concern the qualification and role of the person who will become the chairman of the Commission.

There are fears that the Bill, said to be emanating from the Ministry of Justice, attempts to lower the qualifications of the person who will chair the commission once its established.

According to the Constitution, only the Attorney General, the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution and the Kenya Law Reform Commission are supposed to participate in the formulation of Bills.

When ready, the Bills are handed over to the Justice Minister who then tables them in Parliament.

But it is now emerging that a Bill to establish the IEBC was altered at the Ministry of Justice.

The Standard is in possession of two draft Bills – one from the Justice Ministry and another from the Kenya Law Reform Commission (KLRC) – both with different qualification levels for the next chairperson of IEBC.

Whereas the KLRC maintains that the chairperson should be a person qualified to hold the office of a Supreme Court judge, the Justice Ministry wants this lowered to the level of a superior court judge.

The KLRC draft Bill has provided that the chair and secretary (read CEO) shall be the spokesperson on policy decisions and administration matters respectively but the one from the Justice Ministry makes the chairperson the sole spokesperson on all matters.

Specific candidate

The Ministry is now being accused of trying to tailor made the appointment of the new IEBC boss to a specific person

Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo is expected to table the IEBC Bill before Cabinet anytime.

Yesterday, Mutula said he was not aware of the two draft publications.

"Whatever is in the public domain is not from my office. ...We do not have time for trial and errors. This is a serious Bill, and where there is a dispute I will certainly consult the relevant arms of Government," he told The Standard on phone. However, he said this issue should be put to the public to allow Kenyans debate the roles and qualifications of the next chairperson of the IEBC.

CIC Chairman Charles Nyachae. The commission has differed with Justice minister Mutula Kilonzo over formation of IEBC. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]

Mutula noted that whatever is in the public domain are only drafts, and urged Kenyans not to be worried, but to wait until he publishes the IEBC Bill. "We are yet to finalise our work. Once we are done, we will do the necessary," said Mutula.

And a commissioner with the IIEC who is not authorized to speak on behalf of the commission noted that there are equally confused at the number of draft bills in circulations.

However, the commissioner noted that his understanding of the "superior courts" as drafted in the "Justice Ministry’s Bill" is that it includes the Supreme Court.

The Commissioner stated that before the enactment of the new Constitution, the chairperson was to be a person qualified to hold the office of the judge of a supreme court.

"Since we have provision of a Supreme Court in our new Constitution, it would be prudent to include it. But the words ‘superior court’ include ‘supreme’. It’s a matter of semantics," the Commissioner noted.

The commissioner expressed hope the two drafts will be harmonised.

Recently a multi-sectoral workshop agreed to adopt the draft produced by the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) and the Kenya Law Reform Commission, which is in favour of advertising the positions.

However, applicants with experience in electoral and boundaries matters will be considered.

The panel that will interview the applicants will be drawn from political parties and the strength of parties will count.

Initial commission

The draft by the parliamentary team had proposed that in creating the initial commission, the current IIEC and the defunct Interim Independent Boundaries Review Commission (IIBRC) would each provide two of the eight commissioners.

The remaining four posts would then be advertised for competitive recruitment.

Controversy over the two parallel Bills comes days after the Justice Minister indicated the country was running late in preparing for the General Election.

The Justice minister, while speaking at the launch of a National Cohesion and Integration Commission workshop had noted the country might not have all the necessary electoral reforms in place before August next year when the next elections are largely expected.

"I am a worried man that even as some leaders are busy campaigning for various offices, I am not even sure those elections will be held," the minister had noted.

The IEBC needs time after its formation to recruit staff, train them, and also get sufficient funds for civic education on how to elect eight office bearers.

The commission will also need some months to prepare the public on how to vote, the voting procedures, and have consensus on what should be contained on the ballot papers for the eight offices and other logistics.

IIEC chairman Isaack Hassan said recently the Bill on IEBC ought to have taken 121 days to put in place, from December 16, last year, up to April 15.

According to the IIEC’s work plan, there is need for the Political Parties Act to be amended in conformity with the new Constitution, and that could take 107 days, from May to August.

Hassan’s team says the country cannot go to the polls without an Election Bill, which would take 81 days to be in force.

Hassan has also indicated the earliest registration of voters could be concluded in August, next year.

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