IEBC Chairman Isaak Hassan launching the new election boundaries
By KITHURE KINDIKI
Posted Saturday, July 28 2012
When hitherto “peaceful” Kenya descended into an orgy of primitive violence after the last General Election, there was consensus that, besides the Judiciary, the other state agency that brought us to the despicable national shame was the electoral commission.
Through reckless, insensitive and alarmist remarks, the Samuel Kivuitu-led commission arguably generated raw material for chaos.
As part of the Kofi Annan-brokered deal, the commission was wound up and an interim one created. The interim body was to be replaced last year by the now highly regarded Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) led by respected and conscientious lawyer Issack Hassan. The rest of the IEBC commissioners are men and women of repute and accomplishment, having been appointed after a rigorous vetting process. Despite flying high in the credibility cloud, the IEBC has, however, lately made three mistakes that could impair its esteem in the eyes of the public.
First, the statement attributed to the commission when it was advocating an election date not earlier than December 2012 to the effect that “the commission is not ready” to hold polls before then was uncalled-for and unsettling.
Given the hopes that Kenyans have in the Hassan team, this statement brought worrying thoughts on what would happen if, for example, the coalition government collapsed before December or some other developments necessitated a general election before December. Secondly, the commission was recently rebuffed by Parliament and public opinion for asking for “too much money” to conduct elections.
Third, the commission is now embroiled in an untidy procurement row relating to the award of a lucrative Sh3.9 billion Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) tender.
The tender will see the supply of 9,750 BVR kits through which the commission expects to register 16.4 million voters in a fresh exercise which will see it do away with the current manual registers. Thus the goods being supplied through this tender are crucial to a free and fair election that the country so much craves as the antidote to the post-2007 election mess.
By far, it is this last issue that threatens to undermine the credibility the IEBC enjoys from Kenyans. How the commission deals with this matter is extremely crucial. The questions being raised around this tender are not trivial. Four issues so far stick out and the commission must deal with the claims.
One, the Indian company that first won the tender before a fallout in the commission that led to a cancellation alleges that it was struck out for declining to give a Sh30 million bribe. To be fair to the IEBC, the bribery claim is directed against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The other three issues, however, fall directly at the commission’s doorstep. The first of these is the claim that the identity of the company proposed to get the tender is in doubt. While the IEBC continues to refer to the company as Africa Symphony, the company’s director, Mr Rajender Singh Sachdeva, says the company is officially registered as Systems Integrations Limited, but its business name is Symphony. This is suspicious.
Then there are claims that the company — or its progenitor — was blacklisted in 1994 by the Parliamentary Accounts Committee for shoddy performance. It is also claimed that the company’s liquidity and experience are doubtful.
Its ability to handle the magnitude of tasks that will come with the tender and its capacity to deliver on the specific BVR requirements has been questioned. Interestingly, the company admits that it has no capacity and will have to depend on the capabilities of its “German partner” should it win the tender.
Finally and even more disastrous if found to be true, the so-called Africa Symphony company is allegedly associated with politically connected individuals and wheeler dealers.
The matter of this tender, if not handled candidly, strongly and convincingly has the capacity of ruining IEBC’s track record.
Prof Kindiki is a lawyer and scholar specialising in international law. Gitau Warigi’s column resumes next week