Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has outlined tough new measures to technology company OT-Morpho after signing a new contract on Thursday to manage results transmission in the October 26 presidential election.
Classified documents leaked to the Nation by sources at OT-Morpho reveal IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati’s raft of ultimatums and terms of reference to the firm’s vice president and general manager, Africa and Middle East, Olivier Charlanes insisting that the reason the presidential polls were annulled was because of system failure he partly blames on them.
Mr Chebukati has demanded total compliance with what he says is the cure to what led to the annulment of results early last month.
He was replying a day later to a letter Ms Charlanes wrote on Wednesday.
In the letter, Mr Chebukati takes issues with OT-Morpho’s “selective reference” to Nasa in her letter yet Jubilee was also copied.
Ms Charlanes correspondence was prompted by Mr Chebukati’s communication to Nasa, a response to their conditions they want met before their candidate Raila Odinga takes part in the polls.
His conditions are also captured in the new contract.
In her letter and in what could further deepen the standoff with Nasa, OT-Morpho opposed the decision by the chairman to open servers before the election day, arguing the move may compromise data security.
“OT-Morpho would like to respectfully warn IEBC that opening access to servers, databases and logs prior to the elections might open security weaknesses. We would rather recommend that access to server and databases be provided after the Election Day. Anyhow, logs will be shared on a daily basis with IEBC. Agents should be allowed to review them at IEBC premises only,” Ms Charlanes wrote.
On embedding external IT experts in the system, she said they do not object but say there is need to agree on their scope and role.
Another frontier of clash is the decision not to have locally hosted backup system.
Mr Chebukati said the refusal to set a local backup system had landed them into problems when they could not fully comply with the Supreme Court orders to open up the servers for scrutiny.
“One of the easiest things to do is setting up ‘real-time master/slave database replication’. We already have the infrastructure in place,” he suggests.
Responding to conditions they have set out before they can participate in the polls, Mr Chebukati had promised Nasa that they would deploy a cloud server and a local backup system and that all these would adhere to the international standards.
“OT-Morpho will only deliver RTS (Results Transmission System) on a cloud platform as for the August 8 elections,” Ms Charlanes said in a letter addressed to the chairman. The firm further informs Mr Chebukati that considering the limited time left to the date of polls, it is impossible to conduct a dry-run of results transmission as he had indicated to Nasa.
“Even though OT-Morpho was and remains willing to support such a dry-run, IEBC has to realise that conducting such an operation is hogging the RTS system for four days, so as to prepare, test, run and clean the system. In the current planning and considering the recent delays in receiving the SIM cards to start the KIEMS (Kenya Integrated Elections Management System) kits production as well as latest IEBC requirement, we fear we have no room any more for such an operation,” Ms charlanes had said.
In a counter-argument, the IEBC chief says this needs not take four days but a shorter time. He also reminds them that the Commission is the boss and will define the terms of engagement.
“Dry run is essential confidence building measure to assure our stakeholders on the integrity of our system. For example, it can be one kit per polling station per county live on television. Such an exercise well-co-ordinated can take less than two hours,” he argues.
OT-Morpho also objected to the idea of initiating an external audit on grounds of limited time.
Further, on plans by the commission to display all the forms 34B from constituencies, the firm says it is technologically impossible to do this given the bulky nature of the forms.
Mr Chebukati insists that the tech firm should enhance its data capacity to accommodate the bulk data.
“Please not that since OT-Morpho are the ones who receive the forms 34A first, they must make them public. Text results without forms, shall not be allowed in whatever circumstances,” he tersely says.
He instructs them to avoid a situation that happened in August where some 10,000 polling stations sent results without forms.
OT-Morpho also say that based on IEBC specifications, the media cannot show live feed on verified results since there is no “mechanisms of verification of any kind of verification on the RTS platform before results sharing”.
Mr Chebukati had written that the commission would provide access to accredited media houses to cover results announcements at all levels. Media will be encouraged to show a live feed of the verified results. Given the haphazard way with which the IEBC handled GPS technology last time, the chairman is also asking OT-Morpho to ensure that they activate the technology in a way that is easy to install locally.
They will also have to stay around longer after the elections so they can easily help with the information in case of an election petition in court.
After Mr Chebukati’s conditions, OT-Morpho rebranded to IDEMIA the following day (September 28) in a strategy to better reflect its position as a global leader in trusted identities for an increasingly digital world following the May merger of Oberthur Technologies and Safran Identity and Security.
Commission CEO Ezra Chiloba confirmed that they now had a new contract in place. Mr Chebukati was not available for comment.
“The Commission held a series of meetings with OT-Morpho on the level of support we required for the fresh presidential election. This culminated into an addendum to the contract that was signed on Thursday evening after negotiations were concluded as per the procurement law,” Mr Chiloba told the Nation on Saturday.
He said the only way to ensure that elections happen as scheduled is to have suppliers of critical infrastructure on board early enough. “It is only 25 days to the election and some of the key infrastructure is still being debated,” he said, casting doubt on the whole state of preparedness.
At the same time, sources from the IEBC indicate that the chairman has been overruled in most of the disciplinary actions he had sanctioned against staff members from the ICT department he believes contributed in the bungling of the polls. He had recommended disciplinary action against ICT boss James Muhati and other junior officers. He was ruled out in a plenary meeting last Tuesday by a majority decision of 4 against 3 commissioners.
Part of the ongoing preparations will also see all returning officers recruited by Monday. Reshuffling, and bringing new ones on board is part of radical measures aimed at restoring public confidence in IEBC.
The Nation also established that returning officers who refused to sign the forms containing results were summoned to Nairobi last week with those who are permanent employees facing the sack.
But even as they engage in all these, the biggest headache for the commission right now is getting Nasa to participate in the polls. Should they snub it, the credibility of Mr Kenyatta’s mandate will suffer a great deal were he to be declared winner. According to proposed law by Jubilee wing in Parliament, the President is poised to be announced elected unopposed under the circumstances.
The uncertainty is already unnerving investors as the economy takes a beating.
Nasa already objected to the awarding to OT-Morpho a new tender.
“Nasa objects firmly to this criminality. We demand that IEBC and OT-Morpho explain to Kenyans how the figure was arrived at. We also demand that the Attorney General Githu Muigai and the Treasury Secretary Henry Rotich tell Kenyans on what basis they approved this fraud,” he said.
The opposition claims the figure was inflated to cater for kickbacks for some senior IEBC officials as well as Jubilee luminaries in a similar fashion as the infamous chickengate, a scandal unearthed after investigations by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in the United Kingdom about British firms dishing out bribes codenamed “chicken” to some former IEBC officials to secure tenders in the run up to 2013 elections.
“Until the French absolve themselves, the award further confirms that OT-Morpho is firmly part and parcel of a criminal enterprise that has hijacked the Kenyan electoral system with the sole aim of profiteering and frustrating the democratic ambitions of the people of Kenya,” they said.
The opposition last month wrote to the French government seeking answers on what it calls unethical conduct by OT-Morpho in the August 8 elections where is claims its victory was robbed through connivance of the state, IEBC and the agents it contracted like the French firm and Al Ghurair which printed the ballot papers.
“It seems no one believes that there are a few individuals who do not pursue material aggrandizement other than utmost service to the country. And if such is our frame of thinking and doing things, then much will be said about anything and in the end the country will lose. We need to shift our way of thinking,” he said.
He said IEBC should be allowed space to prepare for the fresh presidential election.
“Kenyans out there are anxious about what is going to happen. I am told businesses are slowing down because of uncertainty in the political environment. If we let the Constitution to function, then IEBC should be let to do its part as ordered by the Supreme Court.”
Official says the firm aims to reflect its position as global leader in the digital sector.