Staff and commissioners at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission are increasingly working under intense pressure with just 22 days to the August 8 D-Day, multiple interviews with insiders have revealed.
The preparations have not only disrupted their personal lives but also brought the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission under closer scrutiny as they organise watershed elections.
IEBC Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba said part of the challenge has been intimidation and threats from politicians.
He singled out Isiolo County where some unnamed politicians have been reaching out to the field officers with financial inducements so that they can make “favourable decisions”.
“Intimidating and threatening any of our staff is against the electoral code of conduct and the commission will take action against those culpable. Politicians should allow our officers to do their work according to the law,” Mr Chiloba said on the sidelines of a press conference the commission had on Thursday.
The IEBC’s code of conduct enforcement committee has until now heard and determined 19 cases of alleged breach of the code of conduct while another 17 have been listed for hearing this week.
The government is also not taking chances with the security of the officials. There are reports that their security detail have also been beefed up in the lead-up to August 8.
“At such a time the kitchen gets hotter than usual,” former IEBC Commissioner Thomas Letangule told the Nation in an interview.
“The only advantage for us then was that we were enjoying huge public support. Unfortunately that is not the case at the moment,” Mr Letangule said.
The disruption to the lives of the IEBC staff has also seen weekends become a luxury as they have to be in planning meetings to ensure everything is in place.
“It is hectic. The chairman is an early riser and works late. There have been full commission meetings even over the weekends. Election is about massive mobilisation. They say it is the only thing that moves people and resources outside war,” said IEBC manager for communication and public affairs Andrew Limo.
He said that the organisation of elections must be thorough and get the end-to-end processes right
“For example, you cannot think of printing of the ballot papers alone. You must factor in the secure distribution to the 40,883 polling stations countrywide. Those polling stations must be known by name and by GPS coordinates. Our Boundaries Department is concluding the mapping of the stations. We have just collected 100 per cent coordinates for polling centres in Elemi and Mandera and we are at 80 per cent in Tiaty,” he said.
Mr Chiloba disclosed to the Sunday Nation that on average, he attends four to six meetings in a day – both internal and external.
“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,” said Mr Chiloba.
In addition, most of the staff at the secretariat have to be in the office from as early as 6am, with no definite time of leaving for home.
For instance, on the day the High Court delivered its ruling nullifying the presidential ballot tender last week, it is understood top commission staff retreated into a meeting that ended well past midnight as they deliberated on the options available for them.
It is in the meeting that they agreed to appeal the ruling. They have since become accustomed to holding meetings into the wee hours in what can only get worse given the myriad issues demanding their attention.
“It is mad house at IEBC. I have heard some people saying they wonder how someone like Mr Chiloba, the CEO, has not collapsed under the immense pressure,” Mr Limo said.
Along with the outstanding issues, they also have on their shoulders the worries and anxiety of post-election period.
The Nation has also learnt that for their crucial deliberations, the commission now prefers holding such meetings outside the Anniversary Towers office to avoid unauthorised people from listening in on them.
The situation has not been helped by external political actors, particularly from the ruling Jubilee and opposition National Super Alliance, who continue to pile pressure on IEBC, including threatening commissioners and senior staff.
“If we have to blame people then we should start with the political leadership in the country. There has been serious lack of political goodwill and sometimes one gets the impression there is an attempt to sabotage the commission,” Elections Observation Group executive director Mulle Musau said.
IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati is understood to consult with presidential candidates, more so Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta and Nasa’s Raila Odinga, to diffuse the building tension.
Jubilee and Nasa each accuse Mr Chebukati of pandering to the demands of the other. While Nasa, for instance, has accused the commission of having an unholy alliance with the ruling coalition, Jubilee on the other hand, charges that Mr Chebukati and his team are out to please the opposition following IEBC’s move to invite memorandums from the public on the procurement of the presidential ballots following the High Court verdict that Jubilee has disputed.
The reality has meant IEBC staff have even had to change where they socialise, whom they meet, and how they talk to strangers, all in a bid to keep the credibility and avoid falling into traps set by politicians.
“The recent ruling on the presidential ballot papers contract has thrown a spanner in the works. I hope the Court of Appeal will overturn the decision. My only worry is whether the opposition will accept it if the court overturns the earlier ruling. Elections are more about perception than reality and already, the environment has been poisoned,” Mr Letangule said.
While the most obvious crisis IEBC is handling currently is the nullification of the presidential ballot contract, it is also hard-pressed on time to carry out a country-wide testing of their systems.
The commission has continuously sought to reassure the public that they have complete confidence in their systems, including voter identification and results transmission.
“Despite the challenges IEBC has faced, it is clear we have remained on course on critical aspects like voter registration, candidate nominations, regulations, staff recruitment, technology and other materials. Other than the new challenge with presidential ballot papers, we have delivered on the rest as anticipated,” IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati had told the Nation last week.
But Mr Letangule thinks otherwise: “As the IEBC has been busy in courtrooms, other things, including country-wide testing of systems, seem to have taken a back seat. They are sailing more or less in the same boat we were in 2013. At the same time in 2013, we did not have all the electronic voter identification kits (Evids). It looks like the situation is repeating itself with the contract for presidential ballot papers still in limbo so is the testing of their systems”.
According to Mr Musau, while IEBC has a register of voters in place, whether the same is credible is another question. However, the head of the local observers says the presence or otherwise of deceased voters in the register is entirely not IEBC’s creation.
“There are institutions that are mandated by law to keep the registers of persons. If they don’t share that information with IEBC then there is little the commission can do. That is why sometimes I believe some issues are being pushed to IEBC’s desk yet it is other people and institutions who have failed in their bit,” he said.
That said, he also expressed concern that Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System, transmitting results electronically and registering political parties and their candidates, has not been tested.
“IEBC says they have trained staff, which is fine, but KIEMS needs to be tested on a large scale to deal with any obstacles in good time,” Mr Musau said.
“From where I sit there are quite a number of issues that we still have concerns about, including voter education. IEBC tells us that they have done 60 per cent of voter education but we would want to see more so that no one is left out,” Mr Musau said.
Mr Chiloba blames the delays on “external processes” of interfering with their timelines.