I do not know about the validity of the unending bilious claims by the Forum for Reform and Democracy (CORD) that the Independent Boundaries and Elections Commission (IEBC) has a sinister agenda against them. Maybe it has. The pronouncements by some of the commissioners, as I have previously said, confirm bad blood between the commission and CORD leaders. Whether this boils down to a collective anti CORD agenda is a moot question. This alone, however, is valid ground to consider reconstituting the commission. All this, however, remains in the territory of conjecture.
But I know something else about IEBC and the politicians that everybody should know. The facts paint a picture of conflict of interest between the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Assembly and the IEBC. In November 2012, IEBC ordered for something they called “universal polling kit (UPK).” They wanted 34,000 packages of this “item.” Part of the package read, “reflective jackets.”
When the tender was advertised in December 2012, they replaced “reflective jackets” with “hand held metal detectors.” The number remained the same as the replaced jackets. The supply of the UPK was however not made even as Kenya went to the polls in March 2013. IEBC went on to pursue delivery, nonetheless! In their letter NPS/IG/SEC/2/6/5 VOL. 1/116 of 15 March 2013 to the Ministry of Public works – which was procuring for them – they explained that the metal detectors would now be used for public security at the presidential inauguration. Never mind that the presidential inauguration and public security are not items in the IEBC docket.
The IEBC worked with the Inspector General of Police and the Public Works ministry to vary “all the items ordered in the UPK tender to “metal detectors” – this despite the fact that the tender was “not variable or transferable.” The tender was now changed from “supply of 34, 000 UPKs” to “102, 000 hand held metal detectors.” The figure 102,000 is way beyond the number in the entire police force! The objective was clearly – and only – to ensure that all the money in the original order is “spent.” In the end, however, only a paltry 5, 000 metal detectors were supplied, according to delivery note 6379 of 7 and 8 April 2013. At the time I am writing this piece, the balance of these “detectors” has not been delivered.
The total cost of the tender was KShs. 1.5 billion. The amount remains unpaid because of non-performance. Some people within the commission, however, wanted the payment to be made. And the PAC also wants this money to be paid, in spite of all the discrepancies. The PAC report recommends action against the CEO for refusing to make this payment. What is the interest of the PAC and those within the commission who want this money to be paid? Such are the questions that both CORD and Jubilee should be asking. Can we trust the people who want to give away our money this way?
In a different scenario, another supplier, Face Technologies, was awarded a contract in November 2012 “to supply, deliver, install, configure, train, test, and commission 30,000 hand held electronic voter identification devices (EVIDs)” at USD. 555.38. Following lengthy delays, complications and gerrymandering, the supplier brought 30,000 laptops and 4,600 EVIDS. He invoiced at nearly twice the original price, USD 1,006. In the end, the IEBC’s Secretariat paid the original figure, leaving some people within the commission – and subsequently in the PAC – to be unhappy. Once again, why would anybody in the IEBC and in the PAC be unhappy that someone saved the taxpayer a whooping USD 2 million? What is their interest in the amount not paid?
There are serious integrity questions here, on the part of both some commissioners and the PAC. Why does the PAC want to reward those seeking to make the country lose money, while rewarding those responsible for the loss? Why would PAC recommend payment for what was never delivered? It should not surprise us that some individual MPs have been flowing up the matter. They are actually privately pressing that the “supplier” of the metal detectors that were never supplied should be paid. It is saddening that the PAC was reconstituted slightly over one year ago, because of integrity questions. Good grief! What have we come to?
Is it possible that there could be more dirt in the IEBC wash than meets the eye? Reliable sources within IEBC indicate that when Opposition leaders meet – or stumble – into the commissioners away from the public rubble, they urge them not to quit. “Kaeni ngumu, stay put,” they tell them, “Don’t cave in.” What, exactly, do we want? Is the citizen a pawn in a high stakes game that he does not understand? Why are procurement integrity questions never mentioned on public podiums? Why is pressure to pay dubious suppliers heaped in private? Why would the same people asking for the commissioners to go home whisper to them in private, “Kaeni ngumu; don’t cave in. Stay put.”?
Going forward, there is need to probe deeper into procurement matters within the IEBC to ensure that they do not distort the ongoing angry public debates on reconstitution of the commission. The reputation of the commission has hit an all time low and reform is inevitable. Still, a methodical approach is necessary. The procurement tussle suggests that there could be some good people in there. Should they ignominiously sink with their culpable colleagues through street protests? What about the compromised politicians in the protesting class? How do we deal with their conflict of interest?