How to raise public confidence in the IEBC ahead of 2017 General Election

Saturday January 9 2016

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Chairman Isaac Hassan (centr) addresses the media at their offices in Anniversary Towers regarding 2017 General Election preparations, on December 10, 2015. It would be helpful if the IEBC discussed its rationale for adopting certain technologies with key stakeholders, most notably political parties, to secure their support. PHOTO | JAMES EKWAM | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Chairman Isaac Hassan (center) addresses the media at their offices in Anniversary Towers regarding 2017 General Election preparations, on December 10, 2015. It would be helpful if the IEBC discussed its rationale for adopting certain technologies with key stakeholders, most notably political parties, to secure their support. PHOTO | JAMES EKWAM | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By GABRIELLE LYNCH
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This week, the ‘Chickengate’ case – which saw a small British printing company, Smith and Ouzman and its directors, charged with corruption in 2014 – was back in court in the UK.

A recap. In December 2014, Smith and Ouzman and its directors were found guilty of corruptly agreeing to make payments to Interim Independent Electoral Commission of Kenya (IIEC) as an inducement for showing favour to Smith and Ouzman in relation to the award and payment of printing contracts.

In February 2015, the two directors were sentenced, and this week a confiscation hearing came to an end.

At the time of writing, the ruling in the latter was yet to be made.

Nevertheless, the evolution of the case highlights the international nature of corruption, and the role that judiciaries in countries like the UK can play in prosecuting nationals who are involved in paying bribes.

The case also reminds us of the fact that some officials in the IIEC are alleged to have received bribes.

Admittedly, the IIEC subsequently gave way to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

However, many of its structures and officials – including the current chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan – remain in place.

Together with the failure of new technology in 2013 and the presidential petitions, this history of corruption has helped to erode public confidence in the IEBC.

PUBLIC TRUST WEAKENED

Indeed, according to a 2015 IPSOS Synovate survey, only 43 per cent of Kenyans have confidence in the ability of the IEBC to run the 2017 elections; down from a 93 per cent approval rating prior to the 2013 election.

Critically, among respondents who self-identify as opposition supporters, 71 per cent reported a lack of confidence in the commission.

This is a problem. Low public confidence rates in the Electoral Commission of Kenya fed into a situation where the opposition questioned the credibility of the 2007 election, even before the polls were held.

This lack of confidence then helped fuel the post-election violence of 2007/8.

In turn, the high confidence rates that a reformed commission enjoyed prior to the 2013 election, helped ensure peace in the elections.

Kenya will face another General Election next year and it is critical that efforts be made to increase public confidence in the IEBC, lest its decisions be popularly rejected. But what can be done?

At one level, it would seem prudent for the current Chair to step down even if he is entirely innocent given that the commission’s reputation was severely undermined by a grand corruption scandal that occurred under his watch.

But there are other important issues. This includes technology and communications.

Kenya’s 2013 election highlighted how technology can help to increase public confidence in electoral processes, but also how it can become a source of public suspicion.

TECHNOLOGY
This history suggests that it is not just the presence of new technology that is important, but the way in which it is introduced.

In short, the introduction of biometric registration, and electronic verification and transmission of results in 2013, occurred in the context of broader reforms that followed the inauguration of the 2010 Constitution.

In a large part, the introduction of new technology thus helped to increase public confidence because it emerged from processes that were widely regarded as progressive.

This links to the issue of public communications and engagement.

For example, in the current context, it would be helpful if the IEBC discussed its rationale for adopting certain technologies with key stakeholders, most notably political parties, to secure their support.

It would also help if the IEBC provided more information on its’ working practices, and how it plans to ensure that technologies adopted are adequately tested and strategically introduced.

In short, technology can help to increase public confidence if it is believed to have been introduced for the right reasons by an institution that is committed to improving the quality of a country’s elections.

In turn, the task for the IEBC is not only to decide which technology to use and to ensure that it works, but to also adopt working practices and to initiate engagements that help foster public confidence that electoral processes will be credible.