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Stakeholders should cease undermining polls agency

By The Standard | March 5th 2017

A State agency is the latest player to place hurdles in the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s (IEBC) path and has joined groups that, by their actions, may have unwittingly compromised the electoral agency’s ability to preside over a credible election.

Last week, the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board barred the IEBC from terminating a tender for electronic systems to be used in the August 8 General Election.

It directed that the IEBC should not to re-advertise the tender for supply, installation, testing and commissioning of the Kenya Integrated Election Management Systems until a case filed by a company whose contract had been cancelled is heard and determined.

While the board’s administrative decision may have been be procedural — it says the law was flouted when the tender was cancelled — it was ill-timed. Ominously, there have been far too many actions by different players that will have the cumulative effective of undermining the IEBC and compromising its ability to preside over a credible poll.

The tragedy is that these groups are all too aware that the polls cannot be postponed because the Constitution set the date for August 8 every five years, with no room for change except through a national referendum.

The decision by Public Procurement Administrative Review Board was obviously ill-advised— it should have given the IEBC the benefit of the doubt when the electoral agency argued that the cancellation of the tender was necessary to ensure that preparations for the elections are not delayed. As it is now, the IEBC is walking a tightrope with every decision it makes risking ending up in court.

This will be a tall order. The integrated election management system is central to the elections as it fuses the biometric voter registration, electronic voter identification and results transmission system. There is now no likelihood that the system will be in place by the end of March to be used for voter verification scheduled to begin in May. A procurement agency’s inability to appreciate these tight timelines is puzzling.

Our courts are not blameless in this matter — despite the tight IEBC time table, injunctive orders are issued liberally and often they are unreasonably long and make little attempt to enforce urgency in the litigation process. This is exemplified by some of the cases before the courts. In one case, a judge cancelled a tender for the preparation of ballot papers, and elsewhere , a case to determine the validity of the appointment of a firm to verify the voters’ register is still dragging on. There is no telling what would happen to the elections calendar if the matter takes too long to resolve.

With these hurdles being placed in the way of the IEBC — from the picketing of the Opposition to remove the previous commissioners from office, to Jubilee’s trashing of a negotiated settlement to establish elections procedures in Parliament — it is getting more difficult to dispel conspiracy theories that someone somewhere does not want these elections to be held.

The elections calendar is not something to be exploited for political leverage, and both the ruling Jubilee establishment and the Opposition parties must cease undermining the process.

While the electoral commission has not always conducted itself in a manner that instills public confidence, it is the only agency with the mandate to preside over our elections and all stakeholders must learn to work with it.

These stakeholders ought to realise that time is running out, and if the IEBC is restrained in its efforts to steward a credible poll, the consequences will be too devastating to contemplate.

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