The government on Monday stepped in to buy biometric equipment for the registration of voters.
To protect the credibility of the election and build public confidence, a top-level crisis meeting agreed that the kit will be bought from Canada on a government-to-government basis.
The Elections Act will be amended to make room for registration of 18 million voters, an exercise that has been delayed by the failure of the deeply divided Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to award the Sh3.9 billion tender for the purchase of biometric voter registration kits.
These are some of the urgent measures that were agreed on during the meeting between the government and the IEBC to save the situation at the commission which had triggered fears about the next elections.
Chaired by President Kibaki and attended by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the talks were a response to public and international pressure to ensure that the election is not compromised.
The IEBC was unable to procure the equipment and cancelled the tender over what has been described as boardroom wars. It wanted to go back to the manual system of registering voters, which many Kenyans believed would open the door to election fraud.
On Monday, commission chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan said they had requested the government to use a faster method to buy the BVR kits instead of the lengthy procurement procedures at the commission.
“After lengthy deliberations, the commission requested that the BVR be procured through a government-to-government arrangement. We are glad to inform Kenyans that the government has accepted the commission’s request and has committed to procure and deliver the kits on time for the exercise,” he said in a statement.
Sources close to the two-hour long meeting said the government had opted to go back to the Canadian company which carried out the pilot electronic voter registration in 18 constituencies in 2010 — Code Inc.
Kamukunji, Lang’ata, Mvita, Malindi, Dujis, Wajir East, Isiolo South, Imenti Central, Mbooni, Nyeri Town, Kikuyu, Eldoret North, Nakuru Town, Ainamoi, Ikolomani, Webuye, Kisumu Town West and Bonchari constituencies were involved in the exercise during which 1.5 million voters were registered.
On Monday, the commission defended itself at the meeting, also attended by Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, and its determination to register voters electronically.
Mr Hassan blamed stringent procurement laws, political rivalry and competition among the 29 companies for the troubles that led to the cancellation of the tender.
“In the meeting, the commission emphasized that its preferred option for registration has always been Biometric Voter Registration (BVR). However, the acquisition of BVR kits was frustrated by cumbersome procurement laws and procedures, political and vendor rivalry,” he said.
The differences between the commission, led by Mr Hassan, and the secretariat, led by chief executive James Oswago, put paid to the tender which was finally cancelled last week.
The cancellation alarmed the government which used last Friday’s Cabinet meeting to insist that the commission has to register voters electronically to avoid possible manipulation of the exercise that could jeopardise an open, fair, free and transparent election.
The international community also stepped in with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who visited on Saturday, making it clear to the government that the next election must be peaceful, free and fair.
She also met the IEBC and pledged America’s support in the procurement of the kits.
On Monday, Mr Hassan assured the public that the commission will play its role in delivering a credible election.
“We assure Kenyans that with the above arrangements, the commission will deliver on BVR registration, as part of its commitment to deliver a transparent, credible, free and fair General Election,” he said.
It is understood that the government delegation alerted the commission that public confidence in the commission was becoming eroded and that the commission’s conduct regarding the award of tenders must remain above board.
Consequently, the IEBC requested the government to amend the Elections Act, which requires registration of voters to be concluded 90 days to the election date to provide adequate time for the exercise.
Said Mr Hassan: “The government has also agreed to initiate amendments with the Elections Act to reduce the period for closure of the register from 90 days to 45 days. This will allow more time for voter registration.”
The meeting, at Harambee House, was also attended by deputy PM Musalia Mudavadi, Cabinet ministers Anyang’ Nyong’o, Otieno Kajwang’, Njeru Githae, Attorney-General Githu Muigai and Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee chairman Abdikadir Mohamed.
On Monday, sources said the commission went to the meeting convinced that there was little time for them to buy the BVR kit because the election must be held on March 4, 2013.
They were categorical that they had opted for the Optical Mark Reader (manual) system in order to beat the deadlines as set out in the Elections Act.
However, the government side pointed out that voters have to be registered electronically to avoid the 2007 chaos in which more than 1,133 people were killed and another 650,000 displaced.
It is understood that the government then offered to use restricted tendering to procure kit from the Canadian company which had already shown its capability during the pilot electronic voter registration in 2010.
The commission, however, was quite clear that it was an independent organ and should be given room to run its show during the lead up to the elections.