After the debacle of the 2017 elections and the subsequent resignation of four commissioners, there was a general agreement that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) needed to undergo some reforms ahead of 2022 elections.
STARVED OF FUNDS
The commission in its Post-Election Evaluation (PEE) report acknowledged as much.
Yet almost two years since the 2017 General Election, very little seems to be moving: the position of the chief executive has remained vacant since April 2018 when the former holder Ezra Chiloba was suspended and later sacked, and the internal reforms the chairman Wafula Chebukati promised are moving at a snail’s pace as the commission accuses the National Treasury of starving it of funds to implement the reforms.
At the moment, there are three IEBC Act amendments bills by chairperson of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC), Baringo North MP William Cheptumo, chairperson of Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee (CIOC) Jeremiah Kioni, and a third one by Kiambu MP Jude Njomo.
The Kioni bill has been around since 2018 and it is only now that it is at the public participation phase.
All the three address the same issue: Amend the First Schedule of IEBC Act to provide a mechanism for appointing new commissioners and filling the current vacancies created by the resignations of commissioners Roslyn Akombe, Connie Maina, Margaret Mwachanya and Dr Paul Kurgat. They also propose to trim the number of commissioners from seven to five and reduce the number of commissioners required to form a quorum from five to three.
The bipartisan agreement on appointment of commissioners that was hammered by Jubilee and then opposition coalition, Cord ahead of the 2017 elections ended with the first appointment of commissioners and MPs have been trying to amend the Act to provide for a new mechanism.
Mr Kioni hinted that the three bills will be consolidated to avoid fragmentation. “We cannot pass all three of them. What will happen is that the others will get subsumed by one. Whichever one it is, that will become clearer in the coming days,” he said.
Without the proposed legal amendments, it means that IEBC continues to operate with just three instead of seven commissioners though Mr Chebukati emphasised that “the Commission is properly constituted, as settled by court, for purposes of discharging its mandate.”
With IEBC having a loaded calendar from 2020 — boundaries review, a possible referendum and preparations for 2022 elections — the National Coordinator of Elections Observation Group (ELOG), Mulle Musau, says the situation is worrying.
“We have been giving memorandums to Parliament since March yet we don’t seem to be moving to the next level. These delays are going to hamper preparations for the next activities the commission is going to undertake. There is this thing with us of waiting until the last minute then we rush things through making it very difficult for Kenyans to follow the process. That is the time MPs insert things that are unconstitutional,” he said.
Though IEBC has until 2024 to complete the review, internal deliberations that Sunday Nation is privy to are that they would want to complete the exercise before the next General Election in 2022. The law requires that the commission should complete the review at least a year before the elections, meaning they would have to do it by 2021.
According to the ELOG boss, the window for passing the proposed amendments to the IEBC Act will be closing soon and Parliament should expedite the passage of the bills so that the process of appointing new commissioners is completed by end of this year.
“My hope had been that we should have sorted issues to do with the commission by June. We have a very short window for reform and the reason is that IEBC’s plate will be full from next year,” said Mr Musau.
Mr Kioni also agrees, saying that MPs cannot afford to delay passing the proposed amendments any longer.
“If we are able to pass this bill in the coming month or so, then they (IEBC) have good time to move on. Delay it any longer and we will be outside the safe zone. Once we have passed the bill then most of the other reforms are internal,” Mr Kioni said.
On his part, Mr Chebukati’s powers are limited as what he can do about the issues that are before Parliament.
“The commission considers reforms necessary in view of the post-election evaluation that was recently concluded. While some reforms are within the purview of the commission, others are undertaken by other external bodies and institutions like Parliament, as guided by their own calendar. The commission has no control over these institutions but is engaging them with a view of expediting reforms,” the IEBC chairman said.
He, however, warned that no election amendments should be done to the election laws one year to a General Election. “The ideal position is that legal reforms are concluded at least two years to the General Election,” he said.
MPs have also been discussing remodelling IEBC along the Interparty Parliamentary Group (IPPG) model where political parties will have their representatives in IEBC as commissioners. The proposals have been advanced by Mr Cheptumo and Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma.