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Procurement misconducts that led IEBC to lose millions

By Moses Nyamori | October 12th 2021

The cost of conducting polls per registered voter stands at Sh2,546. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Details of exaggerated prices of poll materials and infighting among top officials over multi-million shilling tenders has exposed the electoral agency to funds wastage. Details of wastage in the Auditor General reports and the jailing of British printing firm director Nicholas Smith – who was found guilty of bribing top electoral officials to win ballot printing contract – show the rot in tendering processes.

The process meant to allow voters to elect new leaders in a transparent and accountable manner has been turned into an opportunity to make money by individuals involved in the procurement every electoral cycle. Investigations by parliamentary watchdog committee – Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – have shown how top officials have openly fronted firms linked to them to win contracts with the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission (IEBC). In certain instances, millions of shillings were splashed to offer catering services and accommodation to top poll officials.

For instance, during the August 2017 General Election, the commission lost Sh22 million in buying additional 500,000 ballot box security seals. The IEBC resorted to off-the-shelf purchase of the materials four days to the August 8, 2017 General Election at a cost 10 times higher than the market price.

According to the audit report, IEBC had contracted a firm to supply 3,696,000 seals at a unit cost of Sh5.30, bringing the total cost to Sh19,588,800. But the supplier only delivered 2,001,600 seals by July 22, 2017, forcing the commission to buy the additional 500,000 at a unit cost of Sh49.5. The commission further spent Sh27 million on procuring explosives detectors and paying accommodation for commissioners during the tallying of the presidential results in the last polls.

During interrogation by PAC, the commission was unable to provide names of the hotels where the commissioners stayed, only saying they were adjacent to the tallying centre.

Former IEBC Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba. [File, Standard]

Records revealed that the commission paid Bomas of Kenya Sh70,495,162 vide payment voucher No 1196A. “Included in the payment were charges for security systems, accommodation for commissioners and hire of projectors, which were higher than the negotiated contract rates. This resulted in an overpayment of Sh27,482,162, which has not been recovered to date,” states the audit report.

Details of the expenditure revealed that the commission paid Sh6.2 million for accommodation of the commissioners and other staff, a figure higher than the negotiated Sh1.5 million. IEBC also spent additional Sh691 million to buy food for staff during the 2017 General Election.

During a past appearance before PAC, former IEBC Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba narrated how commissioners fronted firms associated with them to win contracts.

A law firm associated with IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati was awarded a contract to represent the commission in election petitions related to Likoni, Ikolomani and Kilifi North constituencies. Others were petitions challenging election of Woman Representatives in Mombasa and Kilifi counties, as well as Migori Governor.

In his defence, Mr Chebukati said he resigned from the law firm before joining IEBC. In his submission to the MPs, Mr Chiloba claimed commissioners pushed for various interests in the procurement of the Sh6.6 billion Kenya Integrated Election Management System kits.

He said Commissioner Abdi Guliye brought in an international firm - Smartmatic - that sought to lease the election kits to IEBC. He claimed Prof Guliye walked into a crisis meeting and said the most viable option was to lease the equipment. “I told Chebukati that there was going to be a crisis and asked him if he believed in leasing and he said no. In fact, I was actually preparing to leave the commission because I was going through so many difficulties,” said Chiloba.

He said IEBC, in a subsequent plenary meeting, adopted a resolution to lease the system from the company against a proposal by the management team to upgrade some BVR kits to be used for the mandatory May 10, 2017 voter verification.

IEBC chairperson Wafula Chebukati. [Courtesy]

A forensic audit by Britain’s serious fraud office in January 2016 presented documents revealing the scandal in which Smith and Ouzman printing firm was accused of bribing a Kenyan who helped it win a Sh1.3 billion ballot printing tender.

The British sleuths extracted email communications between Smith and Ouzman and Kenyan electoral and examination officials, shipping invoices and local purchase orders used by the procuring entities.

Smith has since completed his three-year sentence. His accomplices in Kenya have not been found guilty of any wrong doing.

ODM leader Raila Odinga recently claimed elections had become a major avenue to rob the country through inflation of costs of electoral materials.

Cost of running elections in Kenya has become the most expensive in Africa with cost of conducting polls per registered voter standing at Sh2,546. 

ODM leader Raila Odinga. [File, Standard]

“Elections have become one of the major avenues for ripping off the country through various schemes that are never meant to save costs or yield credible results but to line pockets of individuals. Those schemes are evident in the IEBC’s latest reasoning,” said Raila.

He claimed some countries with an established tradition of holding regular elections had capped the cost per voter at Sh100 to Sh200 ($1 to $2).

But Chebukati says: “The high cost is partly attributed to over-legislation; for example the Elections Act caps the number of voters per polling station at 700. It is estimated that for the 2022 elections there will be 53,000 polling stations. As a result, some of the main drivers of the high cost is wage bill of temporary polling officials at Sh6 billion, election’s technology at Sh4.5 billion. Ballot papers cost Sh5.9 billion due to the large number of security features to curb trust deficit issues.”

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