IEBC must be credible to conduct 2017 polls

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has been in the crosshairs of the opposition, which has not forgiven the Ahmed Issack Hassan-led team after losing the 2013 General Election.

Immediately the presidential election results were announced, the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) rejected them and filed a petition that was later thrown out by the Supreme Court. The opposition blamed the loss to IEBC’s reluctance to provide some vital documents.

That is not about all for the country’s top electoral organ because it has lately come under heavy attack for shady deals, the most common of which manifested itself in Britain and acquired the sobriquet ‘chickengate’. A British firm, Smith and Ouzman was censured for involvement in bribery to secure printing tenders for Kenya’s electoral body. IEBC officials are said to have received Sh50 million in bribes through a conduit.

The Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) conducted investigations that enabled a British court to jail directors Christopher John Smith and Nicholas Charles Smith of Smith and Ouzman for 18 months in February this year. More procurement issues that have tainted the IEBC revolve around the failed BVR kits and the collapsing of the electronic tallying system when it mattered most. Some of the equipment purchased by the electoral body, like lamps, was not used; some of it arrived in the country two years after the general election.

The Jubilee government maintains that IEBC is a constitutional office and must therefore run its term, despite repeated calls by the opposition for its disbandment. The opposition has even threatened to boycott the 2017 elections if the IEBC remains in place. Though the government does not appear alarmed by this, intransigence can see a relapse into the violence we witnessed following the announcement of the 2007 election results. The warning by retired Judge Johann Kriegler that unless we review our electoral laws, ‘the 2008 post-election violence may seem like a picnic’ might come to haunt us in 2017 should the current posturing be allowed to build up.

And in line with government efforts to cut down on the wage bill, National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi has proposed a reduction in the number of IEBC commissioners from the current nine to three. Constitutionally, the commission can have a minimum of three and a maximum of nine.

If it were to be looked at objectively, Mr Muturi’s proposal should be given due consideration, but characteristic of our tribally induced politics, this suggestion is already being rubbished – without debate – as impractical.

The Speaker argues that since elections in Kenya are held once every five years, maintaining nine commissioners on a full-time basis, paying them huge salaries besides other hefty perks, is being reckless with public money. His suggestion of having only three commissioners on a part-time basis is therefore seen as making economic and political sense because there is a secretariat competent enough to run the affairs of IEBC.

A lean IEBC, it is presumed, would be more efficient since there would be fewer competing interests among commissioners and ethnic balancing would cease to be such a thorny issue.

The three commissioner slots would be filled purely on merit. The need for nine commissioners was based on the requirement that each commissioner represents each of the former 8 provinces, but since devolution has taken root, it makes sense to change that rationale and have a commission attuned to the reality of devolution.

Still, the government and the opposition must adopt a middle ground on the issues surrounding the IEBC. Already, the commission is under too much baggage to remain credible. Even as the government seeks new commissioners for the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, reconstituting the IEBC might be the lesser evil to avert further polarisation on the road to 2017.