A vicious tender war over the printing of ballots for this year's General Election is afoot, sucking in wheeler-dealers, politicians, members of the First Family and, most recently, opposition leader Raila Odinga.
Jubilee on Thursday denied an allegation that President Uhuru Kenyatta and members of his family were involved in the procurement of ballots.
It also increasingly became clear, from the revelations made by their political rivals, that the National Super Alliance does not have clean hands in the affair.
It was claimed they are fronting Paarl Media of South Africa who are alleged to have met Mr Odinga on various occasions.
The two printing companies having been clashing for printing contracts around Africa. In some places such as Uganda, the two companies actually shared the job.
Also, as the political rivals battled each other throughout the day, it also emerged that ANC leader and Nasa principal Musalia Mudavadi took risks with the facts in claiming that Mr Muhoho Kenyatta was the local agent of Al Ghurair Printing and that there was a risk of the election being rigged through the printing of excess ballots.
In a statement to the Nation, Al Ghurair said it has had “no contacts with Mr Muhoho Kenyatta” and dismissed the Nasa statement as “false”.
It also denied that any of its officials or representatives was received at State House and explained that the Chairman of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Majid Saif al Ghurair, who met President Kenyatta is not the chief executive officer of Al Ghurair Printing.
“Please note that there are two distinct business conglomerates in Dubai which share the same family name. The other business conglomerate is Saif Al Ghurair group which has no connection or shareholding in Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing,” said Mr Lakshamanan Ganapathy, the general manager.
And far from being a fishy operator in war-torn countries, the company, one of the biggest printing operations in Asia and Europe, is actually a trusted security printer, often contracted by the United Nations Development Programme to provide election materials for countries that require UN help to conduct polls.
The Dubai-based company has been printing all electoral material for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
In a country where lucrative ballot printing has become a vicious commercial war, the current row has not surprised observers.
In 2013, the tender was given to the British company Smith & Ouzman, whose officials were later convicted of paying bribes to Kenyan officials to print by-election ballots.
It is now being alleged that the local fixer for that contract is an Ahmed Kassam, believed to be a business associate of Caroli Omondi, Mr Odinga’s chief of staff in the last government.
In the current tussle, the Dubai printing firm said that “Majid Saif Al Ghurair has no connection or association with Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing.
If (he) led a delegation to Kenya and met the President, it would be purely an intergovernmental bilateral relationship building exercise in his position of chairman of Dubai chamber of commerce and it has no connection with the ballot paper project.”
On Thursday, it also emerged that Mr Odinga’s allies were rooting for Paarl Media, which supplied Uganda with ballots for presidential, parliamentary and district woman councillors. Al Ghurair printed papers for district chairpersons, district directly-elected councillors and sub-county women councillors.
The row between the two companies, on who would eventually win the lucrative Sh2.5 billion tender, has been fought for the past eight months, after the chief executive officer of IEBC Ezra Chiloba wrote to the Dubai-based company on October 18, last year, notifying it that its bid to supply and deliver 130 million ballots, election declaration forms and poll registers had been accepted.
Reacting to insinuations that it was connected to State House, the company said it was “not associated’’ with any political party in any country.
“(We) have gained reputation as one of the most reliable ballot paper printers by delivering all the ballot paper projects on time without any mistakes with very high quality,” said the statement.
In Jubilee’s elaborate fightback, it sought to link Mr Odinga to Paarl and demolish claims that a printing deal was struck at State House.
On Thursday, the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) denied that Majid Saif Al Ghurair, whom it had hosted in his capacity as chairman of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, met privately with President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House in October 2016.
KNCCI chairman Kiprono Kittony said that there was no private meeting between Mr Al Ghurair and President Kenyatta and that none of the issues discussed then touched on anything to do with the printing industry.
In Parliament, Majority Leader Aden Duale led MPs from the President’s party in asking Mr Odinga to account for his relations with Paarl Media, the South African company that challenged the award of the Sh2.5 billion contract to Al Ghurair.
“Cord should have full disclosure about the company that lost to Al Ghurair,” said Mr Duale.
He claimed that the latest controversy around the IEBC, sparked by Nasa principals' statements, is a diversionary tactic.
“They (Cord) must tell us clearly. Do they want to spend time in the corridors of justice with flimsy cases or do they want to prepare for the General Election?” said Mr Duale.
He also asked Mr Odinga to declare whether he would emulate President Kenyatta in declaring that he would concede if he loses the election, without putting in the caveat that the elections would have to be free, fair and credible.
Mr Duale claimed that there was information that two directors of the company – Ben Sachs and Peter Shailesh – met Mr Odinga thrice in December 2015 and twice in April 2016 and that they allegedly struck a deal.
In the deal, Mr Duale further alleged, they agreed to contribute Sh1 billion to Mr Odinga, but only if he helped Paarl Media secure the contract for the printing of the 120 million ballots.
The majority leader said that matters went awry for the Nasa presidential candidate when the contract failed to go the way of the South African company after he failed to get the cooperation of Mr Chiloba, the secretary of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
“It’s about him losing the tender. It’s about him losing the one billion for his campaigns,” said Mr Duale.
Mr Duale offered no further evidence to support his allegations or explain what sense it would make to pay a 40 per cent “donation” from a contract and still deliver and make a profit.
On Thursday, IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati said with 53 days to the election, the commission will not cancel the tender.
“If you look at the timelines we have, actually today we should be doing the artwork for the ballot. So, we do not have time to go into procurement of the ballot tender again,” he said.
Printing ballots requires large volumes of security paper, which few printers can have in stock and which cannot be procured from paper mills on short notice.
On Thursday, Mr Duale claimed that Mr Odinga was “aware” of the Smith and Ouzman scam.
A former IEBC secretary, James Oswago, Hamida Kibwana and Trevy Oyombra have since been charged in connection with the scandal, with the United Kingdom set to remit the money paid in bribes back to Kenya.