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Getting rid of Chebukati is easy, now fix the cause of problem

By The Standard | February 28th 2019

It would seem, this newspaper cautioned last year, that the problem with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission revolved around personalities and ego. At the time, Ezra Chiloba was still CEO and Wafula Chebukati (still is) the chairman.

A special report by the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee all but confirmed and has gone further; it wants the commission disbanded.

Moreover, the MPs found that the conflicts at IEBC centred around the procurement of multi-million tenders. The cat-and-mouse games over the lucrative tenders bred a toxic working environment that seemingly exists to date. The committee suspects that the cost of the 2017 General Election was inflated and consequently, the taxpayers did not get value for their money. Materials which were never used were procured- at exorbitant prices- while others malfunctioned.

If the report that catalogues wastage, instances of gross misconduct and flagrant violation of procurement rules and blatant plunder is adopted, the commissioners and the Secretariat will vacate office.

After the resignation of Commissioner Roselyne Akombe in late 2017, it was clear that it was business unusual at IEBC. Ms Akombe gave some insights into the chaos and the fights inside the electoral commission. She alluded to power plays that undermined the workings and the credibility of an entity that should ideally be a fair arbiter in electoral contests.

Matters were not made any better when in April, the Chairman suspended Mr Chiloba pending investigations into alleged misuse of funds through suspect procurement deals. Mr Chiloba disputed the claims and went to court to challenge his suspension. Indeed, it was Mr Chiloba’s suspension that deepened the rifts in the electoral body after some of the commissioners opposed, and distanced themselves from his decision.

Because of this, three commissioners resigned in a huff later that month - Vice Chairperson Connie Nkatha, Paul Kurgat, and Margaret Wanjala. The remaining endorsed Mr Chebukati’s decision.

The country cannot move on without a properly constituted and working IEBC. Fixing IEBC is not optional. It has to be done and very quickly. What would happen were the circumstances in the country to demand a snap General Election? Lined up already before the next elections due in four years is a boundaries review and national population census which, with a handicapped IEBC, could prove tricky and contestable. And of course preparing for that election is no easy task.

The botched elections of 2007 offer sobering lessons: that a pliant elections body that then delivers an imperfect electoral outcome can become the match stick that lights up the country.

Indeed, South African Judge Johann Kriegler who chaired the Independent Review Commission that investigated the 2007 presidential election warned that unless our electoral system is reformed, the 2007/08 post-election violence might look like a picnic. That still rings ominously loud.

Mr Krieglar made some recommendations, including the disbandment of the disgraced ECK. IEBC has failed Kenyans, and the opportunity to make amends has been within grasp. Rightfully, the MPs recommend that the secretariat vacates office and gives way for a new team to take charge and carry out much needed reforms to restore public confidence in electoral process and democracy.

It is not enough for the MPs to send away the remaining three commissioners – Chebukati, Boya Molu and Abdi Guliye. Going forward, Parliament should enact laws that ensure a fool-proof selection process devoid of political deal-making that ends up shortchanging the country over and over again.

In creating a new commission, it is foolhardy to expect different results from the process that yielded the same faulty results, twice. Parliament has a chance to restore the confidence of the people in democracy. Those who are convinced that a dysfunctional IEBC has denied them their choice of leaders.

Some of the reforms could include giving more teeth to the IEBC Secretariat teeming with personnel skilled in matters elections. Presently, so much power rests with the commissioners who are not selected because of their expertise in electoral matters.

Once that is done, the Secretariat must deliberately roll out confidence-building campaigns to convince Kenyans that it can deliver a credible population census in August and an election in 2022.

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