On March 22, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) terminated the open tender process for procurement of the Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (Kiems), citing time and budgetary constraints.
Two days later, it announced that it had selected Safran Identity and Security (formerly Morpho) to supply the system through direct procurement.
Yet, Safran’s bid in the terminated open tender had been disqualified at the preliminary or technical evaluation stage.
Given the strict legal timelines provided for in the amended Elections Act to have voting technology in place, there was no risk-free exit for IEBC in this procurement.
This does not in any way, however, shield it from accounting for its decisions, such as in this instance, the choice of vendor, which raises critical issues of public interest.
The choice of Safran mirrors events of late 2012 when Morpho Technology Canada, a subsidiary of Safran Morpho, was handpicked to supply the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) system through single-sourcing.
The striking similarity between 2012 and 2017 suggest that IEBC did not learn any meaningful lessons from the procurement challenges of 2012.
And we must rightly ask whether it was by design or coincidence that Safran was for the second time in less than five years benefiting from the termination of a competitive tender process by being selected to supply the same goods through single-sourcing.
The Elections Act (as amended) mandates the IEBC to procure and put in place the technology necessary for the conduct of a general election at least 120 days before such an election.
For the purpose of the August 8 elections, that deadline was on April 10.
From March 24, therefore, Safran had strictly 17 days to legally put the technology in place.
According to IEBC, the vendor committed do so even though it appeared practically impossible to deal with all the technical and financial aspects of this procurement within such a short time.
If it is true that IEBC had applied for, and possibly received, exemption against the mandatory pre-shipment inspection, we must be concerned about the real possibility of receiving goods that may not meet the required standards.
The first batch of 4,000 kits arrived in the country four days after the statutory deadline of April 10.
On April 19, IEBC confirmed that it had already received a total of 10,000 kits, and the balance of 35,000 kits would arrive in early June.
This means that Kiems will not be used to confirm the voters’ biometric details across all registration centres as required during the 30-day public inspection of the provisional register of voters that runs from May 10 to June 9.
What is the penalty for the vendor’s failure to meet these two key deadlines and what is the IEBC’s remedy for these breaches?
The new system will be used to verify the identity of voters and transmit results from polling stations after the original specifications were amended to remove the voter registration component.
COST OF ELECTIONS
When IEBC published the open tender in December 2016, it was aware that the new system would not be used for the final mass voter registration in January and February.
Despite this knowledge, the commission went ahead to include the voter registration requirement in the technical specifications of the open tender, only to remove it from the tender document used to directly procure from Safran.
By removing the voter registration component from Kiems, the commission effectively tied the new system to a single event, the 2017 election!
Because it has remained silent on the fate of the nearly 30,000 Electronic Voter Identification (Evid) kits bought in 2012 at the cost of $16 million (about Sh1.6 billion), there is no reason to believe that Kiems will be any different after the 2017 elections.
The tendency to rush to acquire new technologies tied to single electoral cycles is unsustainable as it disproportionately increases the cost of elections and illustrates the commission’s short-termism.
It is also a painful reminder that IEBC has failed or refused to learn any lessons from the controversial procurement of Evids in 2012.
The biometric voter registration component generally tends to be the most expensive of any electoral technologies because it requires specialised back-end equipment with massive computing power.
Kiems without the voter registration component should, everything being constant, cost a lot less than the available budget.
This is, however, not the case because IEBC has stated that Safran will deliver the system at a cost of Sh3.8 billion.
It is upon the IEBC to convince the public that Safran did not capitalise on its knowledge of IEBC’s budget.
Finally, the BVR system supplied by Morpho Technology in 2012 was required to be built on open standards to facilitate data interchange with other system.
The requirement is a common industry practice to minimise the risk of a customer being locked to a single vendor for the provision of critical goods or services.
For this reason, compatibility with the existing BVR system could not have been used to exclude other potential suppliers from being considered for single sourcing.
In choosing Safran, however, IEBC increased its exposure to the risk of being tied to the vendor for the foreseeable future.
The author is an independent elections and technology expert and former director ICT at IEBC.