Questions have arisen on whether the August 2017 elections will proceed as scheduled following the recent High Court cancellation of a Sh2.5 billion ballot paper printing tender awarded to the Dubai-based Ghurair firm.
The Opposition challenged the awarding of the tender, claiming due process had not been followed. High Court judge George Odunga took the view that since the Issack Hassan-led team of electoral commissioners had resigned from their positions yet remained in office pending the selection of a new Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) team, they had no authority to act on behalf of IEBC.
The court further observed that although IEBC has a secretariat, it has no authority to award tenders. This puts the whole electoral process in a conundrum.
There is cause for alarm because the new IEBC commissioners led by Wafula Chebukati have been in office for only three weeks and there are less than six months to the election. There is hardly enough time for IEBC to source a new firm to print ballot papers and procure all the stores necessary to make a success of the August elections. Yet, somehow, that must be achieved.
Dilly-dallying over when Issack Hassan’s team should have left office following their forced resignations is of no use. It only reveals our legislators’ poor grasp of the law even where specific timelines are set.
This is something both sides should have foreseen unless they acted deliberately to delay the polls. Fighting over the immediate former IEBC team has the potential to either force IEBC to postpone the elections (they can cite lack of preparedness) or hurry through preparations to conduct polls whose credibility could easily be challenged by the losing side.
IEBC: Voter listing extension costs Sh80m
Indeed, IEBC has faced many challenges, including credibility issues, that could still impact negatively on the August elections. For instance, questions have arisen regarding how the commissioners were chosen. The Government and the Opposition have both cried foul, each claiming IEBC was favouring the other.
CORD has also maintained that the Government is influencing the IEBC registration process to gain an advantage. Many cases have come up that, even though unrelated, seem to support this view.
First, IEBC acknowledged that over 128,000 people had registered using replicated national ID card numbers. How this happened with a system that should have automatically detected the anomaly remains a mystery. Several people have been arrested and accused of having intent to illegally register voters.
The theft of BVR kits in Mandera County does not help matters at all. The Opposition’s demand for an independent audit of the voter register to ascertain its authenticity is still outstanding and differences still exist over the method chosen for conducting the elections and relaying results.
The late selection of IEBC commissioners means they have little time to learn the ropes, purchase all the materials relevant to conducting an election and hire staff for the exercise. This does not, however, allow them to sit back and fail to meet the timelines.
The law must have envisaged a situation such as this and there must be a way out so that the elections are not delayed. In essence, this means IEBC must be subjected to as few distractions as possible. The electoral team must work overtime to ensure that the exercise is a success.
And where necessary, Parliament must lend its united support.