Ezra Chiloba, the commission secretary and chief executive officer of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, says elections are going to be held as planned and the agency is overcoming many hurdles to ensure the process is free, fair and credible. He spoke to the Nation.
With just three weeks to go to the polls, how is IEBC dealing with the pressure to deliver a credible election?
Given the historical context of elections in Kenya, we have no choice but to deliver a credible electoral process. For me, it is a journey that we started two years ago, starting with a new strategy and election operations plan. The remaining three weeks are all about tightening the nuts and bolts of the process. This includes finalising the logistics plans that will ensure that the correct election material is delivered at the correct place and at the correct time; completing the configuration, testing and re-testing of the 45,000 KIEMS (Kenya Integrated Election Management System) kits to be used in the election; ensuring that biometric voter identification is the primary mode of identification on polling day; training the 360,000 election officials on polling day operations; clarifying voting procedures affected by court orders; improving infrastructure for network coverage for purposes of results transmission; enhancing public engagement and voter education campaigns; among others.
What kind of things are giving you sleepless nights in the run-up to the August 8 date?
Well, the possibility that we may run a flawless election operation but still leave the country on the edge. It is no secret that we have deep-seated mistrust for institutions in our country and as such common sense solutions to our social-political problems are no longer common sense. We endeavour to fulfil our duty of delivering a credible electoral process despite these challenges.
I would want to believe there are a lot of activities at the secretariat as the date draws near. In your estimation, how many meetings do you have on any given day?
Indeed, we have lots of consultations at different levels within the organisation, and particularly now when we have to make critical decisions on critical issues. The idea is to also ensure that we are all on the same page to deliver a credible election. We are also holding a lot of consultative meetings with stakeholders just to allay some of their concerns. On average, you find that I am in four to six engagements in a day – both internal and external.
How long on average do the meetings last?
It all depends on the sensitivity or criticality of the issue at hand. Some meetings are as brief as 10 minutes while others could last more than three hours.
When do you get time to be with your family and friends?
At this point in time, I would say it is becoming more and more difficult to have quality time with family and friends. I am lucky that they understand the situation. As it were, this is very common now among commission staff.
Would you say the pressure is taking a toll on the commission especially now with about three weeks to go?
Working at the commission requires utmost dedication and personal sacrifice. It requires a big picture outlook of things to survive knowing that it is not a job but service to the nation. The reality now is that everyone is making personal sacrifice to ensure that we deliver a credible election.
IEBC has been hit by numerous court cases in recent times. In what way are these cases adding to the pressure the commission is already experiencing?
Obviously, court cases have affected a lot of our timelines, resources and operation procedures. For instance, the audit of the register was to be completed in January/February but could not proceed because of a court case. Now we are still in court on the issue of ballot papers for presidential elections with slightly over 20 days to the election. The Court of Appeal decision on results management has had far-reaching implications on our operational procedures.
What about nominations?
We have had over 100 court orders affecting the list of candidates for the election too late in the day. On reflection, we must start thinking of how to make these processes much better in future.
Please describe how your typical day goes as the election date draws closer by each day
In many respects, you could say it is very unpredictable! At a personal level, you transit from tradition to adaptability. This means I sleep for less and less hours; attend to more and more clients who come without notice; hold a series of internal and external meetings; respond to one or two media inquiries; go through hundreds of letters and memos every evening; keep tabs on projects and contractors on delivery of goods and services; revisit some of the decisions made by the end of the day; and plan for the following day. Amidst all this, I must find an hour to be by myself away from the pressures of the moment!
Some critics say that the commission is behind schedule, not just in the ballot paper printing but also in testing of KIEMS and voter education. What is IEBC’s position on these?
If you look at the timelines we set out at the beginning of 2016, often they have been thrown off-balance by other external processes. The amendments to the election law in 2016 and 2017 had a direct impact on not just priorities but on key timelines. The court cases as alluded to, have had far-reaching ramifications on timelines and resources. What this has meant is for us to create more time by employing extra staff to work through a 24-hour shift programme. This is what we did when cleaning up the register of voters. It is the same we are doing in configuring and installing the 45,000 KIEMS kits. We work throughout the weekend and late at night to recover on lost time. We do not prevent anyone from pursuing remedies through courts of law; however, sometimes disputes could be resolved through dialogue. This way, we build our institutions and perfect our processes.