Former IEBC Commissioner Roselyn Akombe has exposed the rot at the electoral agency, providing the first insider evidence that the August 8, 2017, polls could have been compromised.
Her damning “end of assignment” report details how CEO Ezra Chiloba put the brakes on multi-billion-shilling procurements on the pretext of time constraint, thereby ensuring they were directly sourced.
Although dated October 30 last year, the report was only leaked on Saturday during the smouldering crisis at the commission. It came just a week after three IEBC commissioners dramatically quit, blaming chairman Wafula Chebukati for incompetence and inability to lead.
On Friday last week, Chebukati and his two remaining colleagues, Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu, addressed a press conference in which they poured cold water on the resignation of their colleagues. They insisted Chiloba was sent on compulsory leave as part of the processes to ensure prudent use of public resources.
Political leaders across the divide are united in their resolve to send them home as well and clean up the commission. Chebukati has refused to resign.
Akombe’s report dissects the institutional weakness, operational issues and the shortcomings in the conduct of the the 2017 General Election. She says political polarisation, compounded by the fact that the commissioners had no expertise in the management of elections, undermined conduct of the polls.
She calls for appointment of commissioners whose “ethics and moral integrity” are above reproach, and who have demonstrated experience in electoral and political processes, besides relevant academic qualifications.
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Akombe who resigned and fled to the US ahead of the repeat presidential polls on October 26, said procurement at IEBC was dogged by corruption.
She listed the controversial procurement of the KIEMS kits and hiring of a media company as among the many tenders that were wrapped in intrigues.
Akombe said election years are a harvest season at IEBC, with many tales of how procurement evaluation committees make a killing.
“There was a running joke that the only meetings which commission staff would attend on time were the tender evaluation committee meetings. The trend is the same when it comes to tenders at the constituency level,” Akombe writes. She concludes that “there are several accusations bordering on violations of procurement laws that can only be addressed through thorough independent investigations.”
On March 16, the commission held a plenary session in which the issue of procurement was discussed. Subsequently, the chairman unilaterally directed that an internal audit be conducted on five multi-million-shilling procurements. This was seen as a witch-hunt against Chiloba, who became its first casualty after he was sent on compulsory 90-day leave after a controversial plenary meeting on April 6.
On Friday Chebukati defended his decision send Chiloba on leave, arguing that the commission ran very expensive elections in 2017.
“It’s only prudent that as a commission, in our oversight role we are able to account to the Kenyan people and demonstrate that this expenditure was justified,” Chebukati said in his press conference.
Chiloba has since challenged his leave in court on grounds that he was not given a hearing or notified of any adverse findings against him. The case will be mentioned on May 7.
But in a damning indictment of Chiloba, Akombe accuses the CEO of using time constraints as an excuse to avoid competitive bidding and dish out direct procurement of lucrative contracts.
“The ballot papers saga is one in which we the commissioners were held captive by the secretariat… this was the trend in high-cost issues. Time was used as a way of tying your hands to take the decision that the CEO had wanted from the very beginning,” Akombe said.
In a clear endorsement of the Supreme Court annulment of the August 8 polls, Akombe says Returning Officers showed her accurately filled-out forms, different from the ones Chiloba submitted to the Supreme Court.
“I met with several Returning Officers who showed me the signed forms, accurately completed and signed that they transmitted, and yet they are not the same ones presented to the Supreme Court. Why the discrepancy?” Akombe asks.
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She complains that many issues related to technology at IEBC were shrouded in secrecy and were only handled by Chiloba and ICT Director James Muhati without accounting to the commissioners.
“The dominance of Safran/OT Morpho in all aspects of the commission’s work is an aspect worth in-depth investigations, including their role in the 2017 election,” the report states.
Akombe says she was always suspicious of the commission’s results transmission system and her confidence in the system nosedived further after the torture-murder of Results Transmission System Project Manager Chris Msando, nine days to the polls.
The former commissioner writes that she was bothered by the security of the IEBC hardware, database and and network levels, despite assurances from the ICT bosses.
“These assurances were not convincing, especially given that the commission did not have back-up data centres and relied on one at the Anniversary Towers that was on the verge of collapsing,” she says.
“We took a decision to acquire new servers for the primary and secondary data centres but delays in procurement made it impossible for them to be fully functional for the General Election and even the repeat presidential election. In the end, the commission resorted to the use of the infamous cloud-based platform, which dominated the Supreme Court case of August 2017.”
Akombe recalls that when the display of results stopped at the Bomas of Kenya at about 8.30pm on August 8, neither their staff nor Safran officials could explain what had happened.
However, when the display resumed after three hours, the margin of difference between President Uhuru Kenyatta and NASA candidate Raila Odinga became a constant throughout the transmission process.
“It is such a situation that will forever leave questions in my mind of what actually happened on August 8,” Akombe concludes.
The Supreme Court in its ruling on September 1 castigated the IEBC for defying the order to open its servers for scrutiny, saying this could have helped the commission debunk NASA’s claims that its servers were hacked.
Akombe has recommended what she terms as genuine and inclusive political dialogue to address, among other things, historical injustices, including domination of the presidency by two communities.
“Even if the world’s best commissioners are recruited to manage the 2022 elections, the process will not address the deep grievances that I heard as I traveled across the country. Delivery of a free fair and credible election in 2022 requires more than electoral reforms and electoral justice. It requires a rebirth of Kenya,” Akombe says.
Akombe said the country should consider having two foreign commissioners on the IEBC to mitigate against bias and political interference. To enhance transparency, she says the commission’s board meetings should be open to the public and minutes made public. It should also reduce its “over dependence on legal advice from external commercial lawyers who are prone to political manipulation and instead build its internal capacity”.
Even more radical are her proposals on the structure and composition of the commission.
“The organisational structure of the commission should be reformed to maintain only one centre of power — the chairman — with sufficient authority to take decisions, probably with a veto vote on certain issues,” she recommends.
The executive chairman, not the CEO, would also be the accounting officer, while commissioners would be responsible for each of the directorates of the commission, she proposes.
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