By AHMED ISAACK HASSAN
Posted Saturday, May 26 2012 at 18:12
The cost of running the coming General Election is no doubt an issue of great public interest.
That is why the budget presented to Parliament by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) elicited a volley of discussion, some factual but some incorrect, if not outright sensational.
There is a need for some explanation and contextualisation of issues, lest the power of passion, which often overwhelms reason, weaves illusory reality from threads of perception.
Were such misconceptions to rule, at stake would be the trust and integrity of the entire electoral process and system the country has painstakingly built over the last five years.
But this is not to say the operations and decisions of the electoral body should not be put to public scrutiny. We are a public institution that runs one of the biggest budgets and a critical mandate.
We have received lots of support, both financial and technical, from the government and donors. We are open to good ideas because they make us relook at our strategies.
The Sh31.5 billion budget we presented for the 2012/13 fiscal year caters for electoral operations – voter registration, voter education, national polls and the diaspora and security.
The sum also includes capital investments such as ICT equipment and vehicles but excludes the Sh5.4 billion the Commission had earlier factored for a presidential run-off and the Sh484 million (certainly not Sh1.8 billion as alleged in a section of the media) is for an array of legal expenses and fees for petitions.
The IEBC made a downward review by excluding the two items on the understanding that the Treasury would provide the funds in the event of a run-off and that petition fees, which can only be arrived at after cases from General Election have been heard and determined, would come from the 2013/14 budget.
But what raises the cost of elections in Kenya? What has changed to warrant a relatively higher expenditure? First, Kenya is emerging from a conflict brought about by elections.
The Independent Review Commission (Kriegler Commission) identified, among others, two key shortcomings in the 2007 General Election which contributed to the explosive political climate: a “materially defective” voter register with probably 1.2 million dead voters and serious delays in tallying, recording, transcribing and transmission of results.
IEBC and its predecessor, IIEC, invested in technology to address these shortcomings. Electronic voter registration was successfully tested in 18 constituencies and the constitutional referendum.
The electronic voter transmission system, which has been acknowledged to give polls results fast, is a solution that has raised public expectations and there is no way IEBC can stop using it.
A critical element of an election process, which unfortunately malfunctioned in 2007, is the narrowing of the time-gap between when counting is over and when outcomes become public knowledge.
How else would an electoral management body achieve this without the helping hand of technology?
The Sh3 billion slated for biometric voter registration (BVR) and electronic voter identification poll book will ensure that only those who registered will vote in person while eliminating the disenfranchising of voters through vote buying (a voter will still vote even without a voters’ card).
The BVR system is a one-off investment and the equipment will be reused in subsequent elections.
Secondly, the General Election has grown in number and area. The ballot has now expanded from three elective posts to six (president, MP, governor, women’s representative, senator and county assembly representative).This increases costs for ballot boxes, ballot papers, personnel, etc. Since the polls are to be undertaken in a single day, there is a need for more polling stations because, unlike in the past, the voter will take more time to vote.
Polling stations will, therefore, be increased from 23,000 to 45,000. Thirdly, there will be 290 constituencies, up from 210.
The Commission has to conduct a fresh voter registration targeting 18 million voters. It would have been easier and cheaper just to update a voters’ register as is the case in a normal electoral cycle.
To expect IEBC to accomplish a mind-boggling election with a mean budget is to call for lots of dangerous compromises. What happens if training of polling officials is not adequate or a scanty voter education programme is put out?
What happens when materials delay or results cannot be relayed on time? What happens when security officers or transporters in remote and difficult terrain go on a go-slow because they feel the “Treasury approved” rates are not commensurate with the hardships they endure?
The Commission is awake to the fact that Kenya, and the world, is going through economic hardships. The Commission prudently uses public funds and is accountable like any other public-funded institution.
Even when provisions are made for legal fees for petitions, it does not imply that elections will in any way be bungled so as to merit the financial allocations. The aspiration is to get the best in less than the budget.
An electoral process is largely guided by law, where decisions and actions produce more definite choices and less “creative options”. But, despite this limiting nature, the IEBC strives to achieve a reasonable budget and to give value for taxpayers’ money.
The Commission will continue to invest in both the process and the people handling elections. We will take austerity measures but only to the extent that this does not compromise the integrity of the polls.