IEBC could face new storm for decision on single sourcing

Sunday November 11 2012

PHOTO | FILE The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) officials demonstrate the registration process using the BVR kits.

PHOTO | FILE The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) officials demonstrate the registration process using the BVR kits. NATION MEDIA GROUP

By MUGUMO MUNENE

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is courting a new storm over the acquisition of ballot papers for next year’s General Election expected to cost the taxpayer up to Sh3 billion.

The commission, which is recovering from a crisis caused by the controversial acquisition of electronic voter registration kits, has now identified British firm Smith & Ouzman without going through a tendering process and three months to the election on March 4.

The commission identified Smith & Ouzman after it became apparent that it did no have enough time to place the multi-billion-shilling tender to competitive bidding.

Single sourcing means the commission has directly identified, an arrangement is likely to drive up costs significantly.

Competitive bidding, on the other hand, would ensure that the commission and taxpayers get better value for money by identifying a supplier to do the job at the lowest price possible.

The Sunday Nation has established that a ballot paper would cost anything between Sh12 and Sh25 depending on the specifications, deadlines and the supplier.

Sources also said that the commission may at any time award the tender for the supply of the ballots to the same company that supplied materials for the recent by-elections.

The Sunday Nation has seen a copy of the 87-page tender document that had been prepared for competitive bidding but which has now been shelved in favour of the British firm.

According to the commission sources, it will take an estimated 120 million ballot papers to cater for an estimated 20 million voters.

Each voter will vote six times – for president, governor, senator, women’s representative, an MP and a county representative – on separate ballot papers.

In addition to the ballot papers, IEBC is also expected to buy tens of thousands of indelible ink marker pens which will be used to mark those who will have cast their votes.

British firm Smith & Ouzman supplied ballot papers for the recent by-elections at a cost of about Sh25 each and a marker pen for Sh300, documents seen by the Sunday Nation show.

Smith & Ouzman say on their website that they have been in the security printing business since 1845 and their job includes voucher printing, examination certificates, cheques and ballot papers.

According to the commission spokeswoman Tabitha Mutemi, the current crisis that pushed the commission to go for single sourcing was touched off by the previous one of the BVR kits which introduced constraints.

“Everything was in place until the BVR tender was terminated. The government came in. The commission had to do what it had to do to ensure that elections take place on March 4,” Ms Mutemi said.

“If that had not been, we would have had time. The ballot papers are not like BVR. They are high security and take time to prepare and print. Right now you know we are using an estimate of the number of voters. We cannot wait any longer, training has to go on. Every staff member has to be individually assessed after training. All this has to go on,” the spokeswoman said.

In a telephone interview with the Sunday Nation on Saturday night, Ms Mutemi said she did not have the figures on the price but defended the commission on the move it made to pick Smith & Ouzman as the supplier.

“We are confident that the taxpayers’ interests have been taken into account. Anyone who would like can come and inspect the documents,” she said.

Ms Mutemi said that the commission would have needed up to eight months to tender for the procurement of ballot papers and opted to go for single sourcing in order to save time.

A new supplier would have needed six months to prepare, print and deliver the ballot papers unlike Smith & Ouzman who, she said, were “tried and tested” as they had worked with IEBC during the referendum and the recent by-elections.

“The commission and the tender committee approved the single sourcing because of the timing; Smith and Ouzman has been tried and tested and we have to have a supplier in place even as we wait for other activities like party nominations to take place,” Ms Mutemi said.

The latest questions over the acquisition of ballot papers and marker pens come a week after the commission weathered a major storm touched off by internal wrangles over the purchase of electronic voter registration equipment commonly known as biometric voter registration kits.

The storm over the BVR kits blew out of the IEBC boardrooms two months ago forcing the Cabinet to step in and direct that the government would participate in the purchase.

There was a sigh of relief on Thursday last week after the first batch of the registration equipment arrived, clearing the way for listing of voters ahead of the General Election.

The kits will cost the country Sh7.2 billion.

Currently, the commission is training staff on the use of the kits before the start of voter registration.

Electronic registration will ensure a higher degree of credibility of the voting process, according to the IEBC.

On Saturday, IEBC sources said the commission intends to register at least 18 million voters although they intend to order about 20 million to have a cushion in case of eventualities.