ODM leader Raila Odinga has described the projected Sh14 billion referendum budget as outrageous and enough reason to have the current electoral commission disbanded.
In a statement yesterday, Raila said the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s (IEBC) estimated cost for the planned referendum was a confirmation that elections in this country had become an avenue for a rip-off by those in charge of the electoral process.
The commission’s acting Chief Executive Officer, Hussein Marjan, said on Wednesday that the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) plebiscite will cost the taxpayer in excess of Sh14 billion.
Marjan told MPs that the commission calculated the cost based on the 2017 General Election’s 19.6 million voter register.
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But Raila said the projection was “the latest indication that the electoral body and the entire election management must be overhauled and streamlined”.
The BBI report has recommended a fresh reconstitution of the agency ahead of the 2022 General Election.
“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.
“The Sh14 billion the IEBC is talking about is not only outrageous but also a manifestation of the institution’s insensitivity to the changes Kenyans are crying for in the management of public affairs.”
He said the country was not in the mood to allow such impunity to continue being perpetuated in the BBI project, which is meant to bring sanity in the electoral process.
The opposition chief suggested that they pick a team to sit with Wafula Chebukati-led commission to ensure “a cost-effective referendum exercise and elections”.
He said it appeared that the commission was determined never to develop an operational performance that contains costs.
“That kind of impunity cannot be allowed to soil an exercise like the upcoming BBI referendum whose objective, among others, is to stop the culture of theft of public resources and corruption in public offices,” said Raila.
He said the upcoming referendum seeks to bring sanity to election processes, including aligning the costs to the global trends.
The opposition leader claimed that some countries with an established tradition of holding regular elections have capped the cost per voter at Sh100 to Sh200 ($1 to $2).
Recently, he said, the referendum should not cost the country more than Sh2 billion.
“A referendum does not need to cost more than Sh2 billion, so we should not be told we have no money. We can teach Chebukati how to do it so we have everything needed for a country to do a referendum,” he said.
Raila yesterday maintained that there was absolutely no excuse why the country should pay more in conducting such an exercise.
He cited the availability of government institutions such as police stations, schools, national and county government offices and government vehicles as well as improved transport infrastructure as some of the reasons the cost should not go beyond Sh2 billion.
The commission had earlier demonstrated that it would cost more than what Raila has insisted on, citing cost of transport, personnel and other expenses in conducting an election. Commissioner Boya Molu said the agency would need to deploy about 350,000 workers and not less than 50,000 vehicles on hire on election day.
Molu said hiring each vehicle would cost not less than Sh10,000 per day.
The 350,000 poll officials include presiding officers and their deputies, clerks and at least two police officers for every polling station.
“On election day, sometimes we are forced to hire choppers because there are no vehicles to hire. Once we have hired the 350,000 workers, we train, feed, deploy and feed them again on the election day. The IEBC does not generate its own revenue. We either change our laws or we live with it,” Molu said in the interview.
A similar explanation was given by Marjan, who said one of the most critical cost drivers in elections was the total number of registered voters.
He said the total number of registered voters determine the number of polling stations – 700 voters per polling station – which in turn determine the number of temporary polls and security officials to be deployed, as well as the number of vehicles to be hired.
“Taking into consideration that the number of registered voters will always increase due to continuous registration, there will always be an increase in election cost. The commission can only optimise the cost by reducing the number of security features in a ballot paper to reduce the cost per paper,” Marjan said.