We're ready to pick the shortlisted candidates, IEBC panel chair says

IEBC selection panel chairman Nelson Makanda speaks during a past event held at the KICC, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission selection panel will go on with the reconstitution of the polls agency’s chair and commissioners.

IEBC selection panel chairman Nelson Makanda on Wednesday said they will adhere to the court ruling and resume their work of finding suitable candidates to replace the team led by Wafula Chebukati, which has since left office.

Dr Makanda sits in the panel alongside Charity Kisotu deputy, Fatuma Saman, Evans Misati, Bethuel Sugut, Novince Atieno and Benson Ngugi.

In an exclusive interview with The Standard, Makanda said they will not rely on the National Dialogue Committee report but rather follow court orders, saying they are only waiting for the government to allocate them funds.

IEBC and the selection panel were debated by a bipartisan team where one of the top agenda was finding a method of selecting new IEBC commissioners. “For us, we can only obey the court ruling on the matter for NADCO, that is just a report,’’ he said.

The process of appointing commissioners, removed after the 2022 elections, had commenced even before the terms of the chairperson and other commissioners expired but it was arrested by politics. 

The process was halted in April last year to await the outcome of the bipartisan political dialogue between Kenya Kwanza government and Azimio-One Kenya.

Kenyans are waiting to see how the paralysis at the commission will be resolved. IEBC has been operating without commissioners after retirement of the chairman, Wafula Chebukati and commissioners Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu on January 17, while Juliana Cherera and Justus Nyang’aya resigned.

President William Ruto sacked commissioner Irene Masit after a tribunal recommended her removal. Last week, the High Court ordered the IEBC selection panel to promptly recruit commissioners.

“A mandatory order is issued to the selection panel to take immediate measures and/or steps… to make it possible for the commissioners to be in office,” the court said.

This was a big blow to opposition leader Raila Odinga and his Azimio coalition who had been holding street protests demanding among other things, reconstitution of the selection panel to ensure electoral justice.

According to Makanda, waiting for deliberations of the report by Parliament could delay the process further as the outcome of the report is open for scrutiny to  members of the public.

“Anyone can go to court and object some recommendations of that report that then means the process will be delayed further and we could wait another year before a team is put in place,’’ Makanda said.

Further confusion looms because Parliament had already moved to halt the Makanda-led commission until it deliberated on the NADCO report putting the team in limbo.

The report is expected to be tabled in Parliament next week by National Assembly Majority leader Kimani Ichungwah when MPS resume.

Further, Makanda criticised leaders against reconstitution of the IEBC, terming them selfish. “What we are seeing now is selfish politicians who want to keep the country in a crisis which is not fair. For us we are ready to finish our work,’’ he told The Standard.

He said leaders should stop politicising reconstitution of IEBC and give them a chance to diligently conclude their work and raise issues should they find the persons nominated are not suitable for the job.

“Let’s have the electoral body in place and when we settle on the qualifiers everyone will have that right on placing them on retirement as they did with Hasan. Let’s not live in this limbo,” he said.

But even as Makanda and his team go back to their work, Azimio coalition have criticised the court ruling with its leader Raila odinga saying the issue of selecting new commissioners can only be discussed once the National Dialogue Committee (NADCO) report is passed in Parliament.

“I heard a court saying the selection panel should continue with the hiring. That’s stupid… that committee cannot work because it had been dismantled by Parliament,” the ODM leader said.

He added, “We will have to agree with all the proposals… We will ensure we agree on all the names that will be in that team.”

Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka also said Parliament should prioritise debating the report so that the right panel can start the work.

“The selection panel is one sided and what we know is that the courts did not give them a definite date to do the job. If the panel continues and selects commissioners, then it will be going against the NADCO report. Kenyans will go back to the streets,’’ Kalonzo said.

However, Makanda said his panel has shown immense goodwill after they opted to take a break amid rising political temperatures despite having the right to go on with their work. “We have shown good will by pausing our work after we even finished shortlisting the candidates. But our good will is putting us at a crisis,’’ he said.

He said it was time to appoint new commissioners so as to conduct necessary by-elections and give affected constituents their right for representation. “What you are doing is hate for Kenyans. What are we trying to test? People need representatives,’’ he said. 

Constituents of Kisa East Ward in Kakamega are also unrepresented after their MCA Stephen Maloba was stabbed to death, Tana River MCA Hamisi Idd also died in a road accident on the Garsen-Malindi highway.

Makanda said his panel is ready to get back to business and advertise the shortlisted candidates as required before the interviews.

“We have a plan once we get the proper facilitation we will continue with our work. We will advertise the shortlisted candidates,’’ he said.

Before they went on a break, Makanda’s team was to start shortlisting qualified persons after receiving applications from 925 Kenyans.

The position of IEBC chairperson had attracted 25 applicants by close of applications deadline. Preliminary examinations of their records had indicated that of 900 applicants, 385 had submitted hard copy applications while 515 had applied online for positions of six commissioners.

The panel was then to embark on the long-listing exercise and crosschecking for applicants with multiple applications through both physical and electronic submissions then gazzette the finalists, who would then be interviewed.

With IEBC not properly constituted, it will be a tall order to meet the boundaries review deadline. The IEBC is required to progressively work towards ensuring the number of inhabitants in each constituency and ward is, as nearly as possible, equal to the population quota.