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Special Report: How election materials tenders open create avenues for grand corruption

POLITICS
By Moses Nyamori | October 5th 2021

Ballot boxes during the general election 2017. [Bonface Okendo, Standard]

Details of exaggerated prices of election materials and infighting among top officials over multi-million shilling tenders have exposed the electoral agency to funds wastage.

Shocking 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 alleged flawed process which is 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 the parliamentary watchdog committee – Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – have laid bare 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 have been 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.

IEBC resorted to off-the-shelf purchase of the materials four days to August 8, 2017, General Election at a cost 10 times higher than the market price.

According to the audit report, IEBC had contracted MS Far East Limited 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 up from the Sh5.30.

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 that they were adjacent to the tallying centre.

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 the accommodation of the commissioners and other staff, a figure which was higher than the negotiated Sh1.5 million.

IEBC also spent an 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.

Cootow and Associates, 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 the election of Woman Representatives in Mombasa and Kilifi counties as well as Migori governor.

In his defence, Chebukati said he resigned from the law firm before joining IEBC.

In his submission to the MPs, Chiloba claimed that commissioners pushed for various interests in the procurement of the Sh6.6 billion Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS) kits.

He said Commissioner Abdi Guliye brought in an international firm - Smartmatic - that sought to lease the election kits to IEBC.

The former IEBC Chief Executive claimed that 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 revealed that 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.

A forensic audit by Britain’s serious fraud office in January 2016 availed documents revealing the scandal in which Smith and Ouzman printing firm was accused of bribing Kenyan officials through former Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) chief executive officer James Oswago and Trevy Oyombra. Oyombra was an agent in helping the firm 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 but his accomplices in Kenya are yet to be found guilty of any wrongdoing.

ODM leader Raila Odinga recently claimed that elections had become a major avenue to rip off the country through inflation of the cost of electoral materials.

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

“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 ODM 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).

But Chebukati yesterday linked the high cost to over legislation and inclusion of many security features on the ballot paper.

“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,” he said.

“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,” the IEBC chairman explained.

IEBC has said the cost of the 2022 General Election will be Sh40.9 billion.

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