The Great Rift Valley Lodge was the unlikely setting last Friday for what could pass as the proverbial night of long knives for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
The Public Procurement Oversight Authority, backed by the Treasury, had organised a two-day procurement seminar for the electoral agency’s staff, including its six commissioners, under a routine induction of state agencies on how to stem the huge losses the government was incurring through inflated or contested contracts leading to compensation claims.
When the official business was done, chairman Wafula Chebukati invited the five commissioners to a caucus on the crisis at the IEBC prompted by the forced leave of chief executive officer Ezra Chiloba.
This was the first time Mr Chebukati was coming face to face with his deputy Ms Connie Nkatha Maina, and commissioner Dr Paul Kurgat – who had both walked out of a meeting last week in which he and commissioners Prof Abdi Yakub Guliye and Boya Molu had voted to send Mr Chiloba on a three-month compulsory leave over 2017 election tenders.
The decision to send Mr Chiloba home was made on April 6, when Commissioner Margaret Mwachanya was in Dubai on official duty. Ms Nkatha and Dr Kurgat openly questioned Mr Chebukati’s decision. In the view of one commissioner, the chat was to help heal the seething anger but this was not to be.
The room was all set: Mr Chebukati was furious that his decision had been questioned, Ms Nkatha and Dr Kurgat were agitated by the rushed decision while Ms Mwachanya was eager to be told why such a “weighty decision” had been made while she was away.
“There was raw anger. People were angry, and they all wanted answers. Every one of us said what we felt in a raw chat, not minuted, but very critical all the same. We all spoke, each saying what they felt,” a commissioner said. Tantrums reigned and that was to be the last meeting the commissioners had together as Ms Nkatha’s team resigned three days later on Monday.
Mr Chebukati, however, said the Naivasha meeting on April 13 was meant to give the resigning commissioners a chance to air their grievances. “They did not. They would also have introduced a motion to ask the commission chair to review the plenary decision,” he said in a statement, insisting that sending Chiloba on leave was in line with his oath to protect public funds.
The chairman said the behaviour of those opposed to the action on Chiloba “demonstrates lack of capacity to lead in difficult times and accommodate divergent views.”
After the meeting, Ms Nkatha drove to Nairobi, Mrs Mwachanya took a flight to Mombasa as Dr Kurgat headed to his Eldoret home. However, they had agreed on a common cause of action: consult with friends and family and compare notes later. This prompted the decision on Sunday to resign which was communicated on Monday.
“A lot of discussions went into this. We did an analysis of all we have gone through and I remember we read Proverbs 22: 1, about a good name being more desirable than riches,” another commissioner said.
Ms Mwachanya was tasked with preparing a joint statement, which would be approved by the team before being read out to the media the next day at 10am. The invites were sent out to the media by a local public relations firm, which concealed its identity, only saying that some state officers will make a “major announcement.”
The announcement was probably only rivalled by Dr Roselyn Akombe’s resignation last year, 10 days to the controversial October 26 repeat election.
“Given the severe deterioration of confidence in the commission chair, we find our position as commissioners under his leadership no longer tenable. Consequently, we regret to announce our resignation from the commission with immediate effect,” the commissioners said in their statement.
The intrigues of the last meeting came as the IEBC said that the security of Mr Chebukati, Prof Guliye and Mr Molu had been withdrawn.
“The withdrawal of security is likely to expose the chairman and the two commissioners to security risk. The action undermines their effectiveness in executing the work of the commission,” said Mr Andrew Limo, IEBC’s communications manager.
The obligation to provide security, over which Mr Limo said they had written to the Inspector-General, should be throughout the commissioners’ tenure, and ceases only when the contract expires.
On Tuesday, sources in Parliament intimated that a petition to force the removal of Mr Chebukati, Prof Guliye, and Mr Molu was in the final stages of being drafted and was likely be tabled this week.
The grounds of the petition were a matter of conjecture but documents filed in court by Mr Chiloba to challenge his forced leave could feature prominently.
The petition was also likely to focus on the apparent gross misconduct and conflict of interest on the part of Mr Chebukati following revelations that Cootow and Associates, a firm he founded in 2006, represented the IEBC in at least six petitions.
National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale accused Mr Chebukati of failing to create synergy within the secretariat, the political parties, or even his commissioners. Now, he has no legal basis for a plenary or to give directions,” Mr Duale told Citizen TV. He said that Parliament had set itself a 50-day deadline to “fix” the IEBC.
Reported by Patrick Lang’at, Samwel Owino and David Mwere