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Okoa Kenya initiative was just a ploy

COMMENTARY
By Eliot Kibet | June 6th 2016

Was the Okoa referendum initiative designed and destined for failure? Why did the Okoa secretariat present the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) with hard copies when they knew that soft copies are ideal for verifying on a database? Why did IEBC apply a rigorous, well-documented verification process yet there is no referendum law?

IEBC worked judiciously, with an audit trail that seems to say: let’s meet in court if you are not happy with the outcome. CORD, on their part, managed the signature collection process in such a cavalier manner that it is not possible to know who actually were the petitioners.

Were they sincerely pursuing a referendum or was it a trap for an opportunity to settle scores with IEBC? Listening to IEBC’s frantic struggle to explain off the signature verification process, one gets the impression that IEBC did the best it could in processing the first ever attempt to change the Constitution through a popular initiative.

They even appear to have tried to save Okoa. But the institution, long accused for corruption and partisan indulgence, certainly had another sail against the wind with Okoa. There was no way the proponents of the initiative would be convinced they could not raise one million signatures of registered voters as required by the law.

What exactly was the commission supposed to do or not do with the names? Was the commission required to verify signatures or verify that the person who has signed, or purportedly signed, was a registered voter? Does the commission have a database of signatures from which it can draw comparisons?

Should the commission admit an entry to the initiative which lacks material detail such as the ID Number, name of the voter or a signature to the entry?
In grappling with those issues, IEBC says it made efforts to define a procedure on how such an initiative was to be mediated or processed in the absence of a specific referendum law.

A report on the Okoa project, posted on its website, says the commission “had to pursue a more liberal interpretation of the Constitution”. The electoral body did this by adopting a policy of passing off any signature as long as the name and ID number confirmed a registered voter in the system.

It means, therefore, that IEBC merely played a facilitative role which was to “verify that the initiative is supported by at least one million registered voters”. When legally employed, the term “verify” means to confirm and substantiate by oath, and sometimes by argument.

Verifying, therefore, does not take a casual approach to information. It demands that one be  exact, correct, truthful and accurate. It is not clear if IEBC was going to verify the signatures through sampling, as is the practice in other countries, had the number of petitioners, by their definition, hit the required one million registered voters.

What is almost certain is that someone would have challenged the authenticity of the signatures in court.

There were already calls from some members of the Jubilee coalition for IEBC to publish the names of the 891,598 who validly supported the initiative.
It is not entirely true that IEBC does not have a repository of voters’ signatures to verify with Okoa signatures. When registering as a voter, one is required to fill a form called form A.

At the end of it you sign to confirm that the information given is correct and truthful. What IEBC should have been saying is that it would be a logistical and financial nightmare to trace every Okoa signature to the over 14million forms across its network of 290 offices countrywide.

IEBC later clarified that any form of signature was presumed a demonstration of intention by a petitioner.

This makes sense since it is the only thing they had the means to execute. It means IEBC lowered the verification bar for the Okoa secretariat.

But even with the gesture, IEBC was not going to get accolades. By default, low trust level had confirmed that IEBC had gotten it wrong again.

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