Mr President, let IEBC members be picked by a non-partisan body

Former IEBC Chairperson Wafula Chebukati appears before the Justice Aggrey Mchelule Tribunal at KICD on January 24, 2023. [Silas Otieno, Standard]

My advice to the President today is about reconstitution of the Selection Panel of the members of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

Perhaps expanding the composition to include more politically inclined persons is not a good idea. In fact, to promote the perception that IEBC is non-partisan and independent, the selection of its members should be completely divorced from political involvement and or interference.

On January 23, 2023, President William Ruto signed into law the IEBC (Amendment) Act, 2023, which changed the composition of the IEBC Selection Panel.

Before the amendment, section one of the First Schedule of the IEBC Act provided that, "at least six months before the lapse of the term of the chairperson or member of the Commission or within fourteen days of the declaration of a vacancy in the office of the chairperson or member of the Commission under the Constitution or this Act, the President shall appoint a selection panel consisting of seven persons for the purposes of appointment of the chairperson or member of the Commission."

The selection panel before consisted of two men and two women nominated by the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC); a representative of the Law Society of Kenya; and two persons nominated by the Inter-religious Council of Kenya.

Although four members were nominated by PSC, the political "interference" was perceived to emanate from elsewhere though Parliament kept a hold on IEBC as it also vets the nominees for appointment to IEBC.

Nevertheless, the representation of PSC was justified at the time of establishing IEBC, which came at the heels of the disbandment of former Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) making the PSC's role important.

Subsequently, the selection panel should have been weaned off political representation as allegations of political influence and bias in favour of the ruling elite persisted.

The 2023 amendment to the First Schedule of the IEBC Act, changed the composition to reduce the representatives of PSC from four to two; a man and a woman, and instead introduced the representation of the Public Service Commission and the Political Parties Liaison Committee; one each and retained the others as before.

Bringing in a representative of political parties further politicises and polarises an already political and polarised selection panel.

The introduction of a representative of the Public Service Commission is not necessarily a bad idea because the PSC is perceived to be more professional even though their recommendations for political appointees are not always taken into consideration by the political ruling elite.

Politicians cannot referee their own game and no one side of the game should determine who should be the referee on their own. Perceptions of injustice can undermine the integrity of an institution and the outcome of its work.

The composition of the IEBC Selection Panel has always been a problem, with majority of experts recommending that the selection panel be completely devoid of partisan political and parochial interests.

Introducing membership from the Political Parties Liaison Committee could worsen the situation because the perception is that, this gives the majority ruling coalition an upper hand in the selection panel as they are seen to control most public institutions of governance including this committee.

In addition, the chairman of the ruling party is now effectively a member of the Parliamentary Service Commission, which has two influential representatives in the selection panel.

This is exacerbated by allegations of innate political influence even of the representatives from the civil society in the selection panel because they are not averse or impervious to political influence.

It doesn't help that the members of the selection panel do not require professional knowledge of democracy, governance, and elections as they only need to be Kenyan citizens, have a degree from a recognised university, and meet requirements of leadership and integrity although there is no measure for this as they do not go through any interview to determine their suitability.

The appointment of IEBC commissioners should be by an independent constitutional body even if it is the Public Service Commission since its composition is not political or politicised.