With just four months to the elections scheduled for August 8, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) faces a long and bumpy road ahead.
Amid court cases, the electoral body has maintained that all will be well in the use of technology and legal timelines.
“We will continue to update the country on the electoral systems that we are putting in place to ensure a timely delivery of elections on August 8, 2017 that are free, fair, and credible,” chairman Wafula Chebukati has said.
One of the suits was filed by opposition Cord, which went to court in December, 2016 to stop KPMG which had been contracted to audit the voter register from proceeding with the exercise.
They stated through lawyer Anthony Oluoch that the company has no known experience of undertaking a similar task anywhere else in the world and there is no guarantee it is capable of the task ahead. To date, that audit remains in limbo.
IEBC critics maintain that underneath the assurances there are serious doubts whether the commission can consign to oblivion the confusion that characterised the March 2013 elections.
“The IEBC preparations are a typical replica of the 2013 polls. The coming in of the new commissioners has not altered anything. The cobwebs that were dangling in the house in 2013 are still intact, and in fact they have grown big. When the bottom is rotten it will not make any change even if you put a silver head. The chairperson has to evaluate his secretariat and understand whose interests they are serving,” chairman of the Political Parties Liaison Committee Philip Abuba said.
“The commission wishes to reaffirm its commitment to ensure that all is set for a free and fair election on August 8, 2017. Indeed, we are pressed with time due to events outside our control but we adjusting our strategy as we get along. A good example is the procurement of KIEMS (Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System). While we wished to conclude the process through open tender, that process would have given us a contract by April 26, 2017 assuming there were no further hurdles. By that time, it would have been too late,” commission secretary Ezra Chiloba said.
But former CEO James Oswago said a majority of the challenges the commission is facing are of its own making.
“The commission must first learn to follow the procurement law. If they don’t do that, they cannot then turn around and blame somebody who contests their decisions,” said Mr Oswago.
At Nairobi’s Masinde Muliro Grounds on Friday, opposition National Super Alliance leaders questioned IEBC’s readiness to conduct the General Election.
They announced that they would have a parallel tallying centre to check on the commission. “We shall have our own parallel tallying. We shall no longer cry again,” Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka said.
While operational and legal timelines remain a thorny issue for IEBC, the decision to terminate the Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System (KIEMS) tender and directly procure it from Safran Identity and Security of France may now have opened yet another battlefront with the critics of the commission.
The tender, which was first advertised on December 16, 2016, had attracted 10 prospective bidders namely Safran Identity and Security of France, Gemalto SA of France, Novus Holdings Ltd of South Africa, Lithotech, SuperTech STL Ltd of British Virgin Islands, Compulynx Ltd of Kenya, Smartmatic International Holding B.V. of The Netherlands. Others were, Avante International Technology of US, Bigradap Goup of South Africa and Indra Sistemas S.A of Spain.
Since then, the tender was delayed at various times, as the prospective bidders took their fights before the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board (PPARB).
On December 29, 2016, the Board stopped the process after one of the prospective bidders applied for a review. “The order was lifted on January 17, 2017,” said Mr Chebukati.
A month later on February 22, 2017, the PPARB again stopped the process as the evaluation was going on until March 9 when the application was dismissed. Following the delays as a result of the bidder wars, IEBC concluded the financial evaluation on March 17, 2017 and Gemalto, which was the only technically qualified bidder, quoted Sh5.2 billion against IEBC’s available budget of Sh3.8 billion.
Gemalto SA of France, which was the only prospective bidder to have met the technical evaluation, was formally informed of the termination on March 22 while the announcement that Safran Identity and Security (previously Morpho) had been directly selected was made two days later on March 24.
According to Section 18 of the Election Laws Amendment Act 2017, the system is supposed to be in place “120 days” to the General Election on August 8. That means that Safran Identity and Security, which has been single-sourced, must manufacture, provide time for technical and acceptance testing by IEBC, deliver, install and commission the same by April 10, which is just two weeks away.
How that will be possible remains uncertain, though Mr Chebukati had said that “Safran has undertaken to deliver the technology within the statutory timelines.”
Mr Chiloba also added that “the arrangement we have with Safran is to ensure the legal timelines are met.”
The French company is benefiting from IEBC’s direct procurement for a second time in five years, having also been awarded the tender for the biometric voter registration kits (BVR) through a government to government arrangement.
According to Mr Chebukati, only Gemalto SA, also of France, had “qualified for technical evaluation” and proceeded to the financial evaluation stage of the tender which has been fraught with legal technicalities.
From what Mr Chebukati said in his Friday statement, it means that Safran Identity and Security did not meet the technical evaluation and that is why they could not proceed to the next stage of the process which involves financial evaluation.
The question that now arises is how Safran has become the beneficiary of the tender despite having failed the technical evaluation during the open tendering stage.
According to the source who spoke to Nation on condition of anonymity, he wondered when the commission realised that the scope had substantially changed following the recently concluded mass voter registration, making IEBC to terminate the tender and opt for direct procurement.
Furthermore, IEBC’s claim that only Safran Identity and Security had provided a “guarantee for compatibility, timely delivery and accountability in the deployment of the new system” raises yet another key question on the 2012 BVR technical specifications that required vendors to deliver a system built on Open Standards for Interoperability with other electoral systems, meaning that the same data could be accessible without necessarily going back to the vendor for licences.
According to Mr Abuba, IEBC has proved mean with their information, which makes it difficult for the electorate to take them seriously.
However, the electoral commission maintains that the anxiety is unwarranted and Kenyans should give it the benefit of doubt, bearing in mind the external factors that have tampered with their original election operation plan.
The external factors include among others, the amendments to the Election Act which happened as late as January, 2017.