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Why our polls cost an arm and a leg

By Rawlings Otieno | September 22nd 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Ballot boxes in a hall at Tudor Secondary School in Mombasa County on October 25, 2017, as IEBC clerks sort out papers ahead of the repeat presidential election. [Maarufu Mohamed,Standard]

An ethnically-charged environment, mistrust among political players, increased use of technology and ballot papers with numerous security features are some of the factors that make elections expensive.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in its report to the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) says wages for temporary election and security officials, transportation, procurement-related litigation and election petitions also increase the cost of holding elections in Kenya.

In addition, the BBI report launched last November, said there is a need to explore ways to enact provisions that reduce the disproportionately high costs of the elections, adding that the party list system is one.

The Yusuf Haji-led task force recommended that the country should reform present electoral system to ensure it is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent as mandated by Article 86 of the Constitution.

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The Wafula Chebukati-led commission, however, admits that they have very little control over most of the cost drivers.

“Due to mistrust among political players, Kenya has increasingly legislated on the use of technology in elections thus making elections expensive. In 2017, the commission deployed expensive technology supplied by a France-based company. Ironically, France does not use such technology in its elections because of the high trust levels among its political players,” Chebukati told the BBI team.

The audit report for the financial year 2017-2018, shows that the electoral agency made over-payment for the hiring of the National Tallying Centre amounting to Sh27.4 million and irregular procurement of catering services in which Sh691.5 million could not be ascertained.

Further in the 2016-17 audit report, the commission was indicted for among other things irregular procurement of transport services, failure to provide payment vouchers and other documents, excess purchase of data bundle and unjustifiable purchase of Kenya Integrated Election Management System (Kiems) kit.

In a special audit conducted on the procurement of the electronic devices for the 2013 General Election, the audit report shows that the commission breached several sections of the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act by going against the budget estimates of the election materials.

And in its Post-Election Evaluation (PEE) Report, the commission argues that procurement and distribution logistics of election materials should be put in place at least six months to the election date.

Speaking during the occasion to commemorate the International Day of Democracy organised by the Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CDM), on Friday, IEBC commissioner Boya Molu explained that on election day, the commission deploys 350,000 staff and not less than 50,000 vehicles for hire.

“On any Election Day the commission hires not less than 50,000 vehicles and you cannot get a vehicle for less than Sh10,000 and 350,000 poll officials,” said Molu.

Molu noted the 350,000 poll officials include presiding officers and their deputies, clerks and at least two police officers for every polling station.

“Sometimes we are forced to hire choppers because there are no vehicles to hire. Once we have hired the 350,000, we train, feed, deploy and feed them again on election day. IEBC does not generate its own revenue. We either change our laws or we live with it,” he said.

Former IEBC Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba opined that the cost of conducting a referendum is - all factors constant - within the range of Sh9.5 billion to Sh12.7 billion.

Mr Chiloba who served during the 2017 polls said that if a referendum will be held against the backdrop of Covid-19, the cost will be high.

“If we use the current voting method in this new context, the cost will increase and perhaps it will take longer to vote and process results,” said Chiloba.

According to him, one of the critical components of the budget is the use of technology, adding that the cost depends on whether the system is ready and if not, the cost of reconfiguration and maintenance is necessary.

“There are more than 40,000 polling stations with an average four polling officials per polling station. They must be trained, transported where necessary, fed, and be paid their wages. We have not considered workers at the constituency, county and national level,” says Chiloba.

Chiloba, however, opined that unless the political system invests more in inculcating trust no matter how much you invest in technology or security features, the results will always be the same.

“There is a very high degree of trust deficit in our political system. We always cast aspersions. We invest more in things that regulate human behaviour by acquiring more sophisticated systems and security features. Technical solutions cannot solve social human behaviour,” said Chiloba.

Ezra Chiloba IEBC
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