Monday’s launch of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report has given fresh impetus to the clamour for constitutional amendments before the 2022 General Election.
And with it has come debate on the cost of a referendum and capability of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), in its current status, to oversee the vote.
On Wednesday, the Wafula Chebukati-led agency announced it would cost Sh14 billion to conduct the proposed BBI referendum. Acting CEO Hussein Marjan said the estimates were based on the 2017 General Election’s 19.6 million voter register roll.
Just hours later, ODM chief Raila Odinga poked holes in the estimates, saying a plebiscite should cost no more than Sh2 billion.
Come yesterday, Deputy President William Ruto sided with IEBC saying in 2010, the country spent Sh12 billion for the referendum vote.
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But in the midst of the referendum budget debate lies the elephant in the room — the need to reform IEBC and safeguard the sanctity of our electoral processes. Admittedly, IEBC suffers grave systemic weaknesses that remain a blot on our democracy. Every election year, we’ve had to change commissioners and top election officials. The problem mainly lies in debilitating legal loopholes, external interference, vested political interests and lack of foolproof systems. Credible polls are central to democracy. In the absence of inclusiveness, transparency and accountability as has been the case in Kenya, the actual or perceived integrity of the process suffers, and is often the root cause of post-election chaos as witnessed in 2007 and 2017.
From where we sit, the ongoing clamour for reforms through BBI provides a perfect opportunity to cure everything that ails IEBC in particular and the conduct of our polls in general. Let’s get it right this time. The referee role of the commission isn’t a matter to gamble with.
The BBI report, too, reinforces the need to overhaul the commission, which runs with only three commissioners – Chebukati, Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu. Four commissioners – Paul Kurgat, Corney Nkatha, Margaret Mwachanya and Roselyne Akombe – left in a huff after the sham 2017 polls. CEO Ezra Chiloba was sacked.
The signing into law of the IEBC Amendment Bill is well-timed. It now paves the way for recruitment of commissioners to fill vacant positions to start with.
It shouldn’t be a matter of if but when we will have a new electoral commission. We will exhibit lack of foresight if we fail to seize the moment.