Key players in the August 8 elections were left weighing their options as the row over the awarding of the ballot printing tender to a Dubai firm showed no signs of letting up.
The stand-off involving the awarding of a Sh2.5 billion ballot paper printing tender to Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company is threatening to throw preparations for the elections into disarray, as the electoral commission ruled out cancelling the contested tender.
Thursday, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) stood its ground in awarding the tender to the Dubai firm.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party introduced a new twist to the controversy by claiming that the Opposition was frustrating the process so the tender could be given to a South African company of their choice.
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Jubilee has accused the Opposition of plotting to have the elections postponed.
The National Super Alliance (NASA), on the other hand, is pushing for the tender to be withdrawn, and has written to IEBC demanding cancellation, failing which they will go to court.
Thursday, NASA National Campaign Committee Chairman Musalia Mudavadi said IEBC still had time and must cancel the tender to protect the credibility of the election process.
But IEBC Communications Manager Andrew Limo told The Standard Thursday evening that the commission was yet to receive the letter.
A meeting between IEBC and all eight presidential candidates Thursday degenerated into a shouting match, with IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati announcing that the parties had agreed to “formally communicate their formal position” by 11am Friday.
The NASA team revealed the tension in the IEBC meeting, claiming that at some point Jubilee Party Secretary General Raphael Tuju stormed out, as the parties remained sharply divided.
Third Party Alliance Presidential candidate Ekuro Aukot also waded in the controversy, saying in order for the process to be seen as credible, IEBC must cancel the tender and have a neutral firm print the ballot papers.
“We are shocked to also learn from Jubilee that NASA also have a firm that they want awarded the tender. Already, the credibility of this election is compromised and it is our position that the tender be cancelled,” Dr Aukot said.
Addressing journalists after the meeting, Mr Chebukati gave the face of an electoral commission that will not entertain calls by NASA to review its position, adding that time was not on their side to have the ballot papers printed.
“Our meeting today was not to discuss whether or not to cancel the tender. The contract has already been signed and there are legal repercussions in terminating such deals. If you look at the timelines, we do not have the time to do fresh tendering. By today (Thursday) we should be doing the artwork (for ballots),” he said.
The decision was a shocker for NASA, whose representatives at the meeting - lawyers Paul Mwangi and Otiende Amollo - had minutes earlier told the media that the commission had promised to issue a comprehensive response to their calls that the tender should be cancelled.
The lawyers said their coalition would not honour IEBC’s invitation to accompany them to Dubai to witness the ballot printing process, maintaining their call that the tender should be awarded to another firm.
They insisted that Al Ghurair had secret dealings with Jubilee, and particularly with the President, thus casting doubt on its ability to handle such sensitive matters relating to the August polls.
“We have made our position clear that we will not be accompanying IEBC to witness the printing in Dubai. Further, we will not be part of any meeting touching on the printing of ballot papers until IEBC takes the right position on the improper contact between Al Ghurair and the Jubilee leadership,” said Mr Mwangi.
The NASA team expressed dissatisfaction with the manner in which IEBC had handled their complaint, arguing that after such “credible” evidence being produced to prove that the Dubai company was being vouched for by Jubilee, the only fair thing was to cancel the tender.
“It is inconceivable that we can allow this company to continue printing the ballot papers. They (IEBC) have not given us any assurance about our complaint; they only said they would issue a statement,” said Mr Amollo.
“They have also not commented on the serious allegations about their officers, who are accused of improprieties in handing the tendering process.”
NASA had accused IEBC Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba and Voter Registration Director Immaculate Kassait of working in the interests of Al Ghurair and Uhuru in the procurement process.