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2017 polls: Time for another IPPG-like moment

Sunday March 27 2016

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Chairman Issack Hassan (centre), Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba (right) and Vice Chairperson Lilian Mairi during a press briefing at the IEBC office in Nairobi on March 24, 2016. Cord leader Raila Odinga said they would not go to the next elections under the present commission. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Chairman Issack Hassan (centre), Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba (right) and Vice Chairperson Lilian Mairi during a press briefing at the IEBC office in Nairobi on March 24, 2016. Cord leader Raila Odinga said they would not go to the next elections under the present commission. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By GEORGE KEGORO
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After dallying with the signatures that the Opposition had presented for verification, as part of the process towards the Okoa Kenya referendum, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission emerged with the answer that some of the signatures were invalid and that the sum total, therefore, fell below the one million threshold that would have triggered the possibility of a referendum.

This development, which has angered the Opposition, coincided with the tabling by the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly of its report on the procurement of ill-fated technologies that were used in the 2013 election. The PAC report, consistent with the special audit report by Auditor-General on which it is based, severely criticises the procurement process for electronic voting devices.

According to the PAC report, arrangements to procure poll equipment, including biometric kits, electronic voter identification devices, the electronic result transmission system, the optical mark readers and universal polling kits were made unilaterally, with no procurement plans in place for a successful process.

The IEBC commissioners are reported as having rejected the findings of the PAC and have declared themselves tired of being criticised and ready to leave office. On the subject of leaving office, there is credible information that Jubilee reportedly offered the commissioners a golden handshake last year, which would have led to a mass departure from office. It is unclear where that discussion now stands.

The handling of the referendum signatures raises a number of problems for the IEBC. After dallying since November when the signatures were handed over for verification, the IEBC, under pressure from the opposition for failing to resolve the verification process, suddenly announced that it had carried out the needed verification and that the number of valid signatures had fallen below the one million mark required to trigger the possibility of a referendum.

The IEBC could have been more expeditious in carrying out the verification process. To keep Cord waiting for so long and then only to announce that the signatures were insufficient to get the referendum going, seems an exercise in trickery and will not increase confidence in the elections body.

Although the information contained in the PAC report has been in the public domain, since its substance already forms the subject of the special audit report by the Auditor-General, it is the first time that Parliament, as a representative of the people, is making findings that are adverse to the IEBC.

Because of the golden handshake offer reportedly made to the IEBC, it must be assumed that Jubilee no longer supports the current IEBC commissioners and now wants them out of office before the next elections. The opposition Cord also wants the commissioners removed and has agitated for this outcome since the last elections.

For the first time Ezra Chiloba, the Chief Executive of the IEBC, pictured, is getting mentioned personally in the problems of the IEBC. Relatively new, he was not in office when the IEBC ran the last elections. His appointment was a major coup for the commissioners who had expended all their credibility in defending the manner in which they had run the last elections.

DEFENSIVE POSTURE

As a fresh face, the commissioners could now take cover in Chiloba’s credibility and have bought themselves time in office. However, Chiloba is fast spending his own capital on the commissioners and has taken a defensive posture over the affairs of the IEBC, appearing increasingly willing to take a bullet on their behalf.

It is clear that something will have to change about the IEBC before the next elections. The question, though, is what should change and how such change can be brought about. Jubilee has reportedly tried to initiate change by offering a way out for the commissioners.

However, a unilateral process to change the referee so close to the 2017 game is unlikely to meet the confidence of competing political players or the public.

It would be far better to have a more open and inclusive process to discuss the reforms that are needed at the IEBC. Even the Speaker of the National Assembly, Justin Muturi, is reported to have said that IEBC needs to do something to restore the confidence of political actors.

However, the IEBC is limited in what it can do. While the IEBC is currently addressing technical preparations for the 2017 elections, the problem of trust is outside of its control and is something that only those who deal with the IEBC can determine.

It is for those other actors to cause a moment of coming together, to discuss the IEBC and other outstanding issues that need to be addressed while there is still time to do something about preparations for the next elections.

It is time for another IPPG-like moment in Kenya. The IPPG (the Inter-Political Parties Group) was an elite platform that Kenyan political actors and civil society crafted in 1997 to save the country from the disaster that might have resulted from a threatened opposition boycott of the General Election of that year.

The resulting agreement gave opposition parties the opportunity to appoint commissioners to the Electoral Commission, in addition to those that had been appointed by the president on his own and resulted in greater public confidence as allowed the elections to go ahead.

The key issue now is to ensure an orderly exit of the current commissioners, something on which there is an outline of consensus, and to agree on an orderly process for their replacement in time for them to be useful in preparing for the next elections.