IEBC to name BVR winner today
Symphony Africa will today know if it will be awarded the Sh3.9 billion tender to supply the IEBC with Biometric Voter Registration kits when the tender committee sits. This is after the team appointed by the IEBC to conduct due diligence on the firm that faced a barrage of questions over its credibility and true identity finalised its work on Saturday evening. "The tender committee will today meet to make a decision based on the due diligence report," a top official of IEBC told the Star.
If Symphony is knocked out today, then IEBC will consider South African firm FaceTech which was evaluated as the third having quoted Sh4.7 billion. Although IEBC says it has Sh3.9 billion allocated by Treasury for the BVR, donors have indicated that they will put up to 13 per cent of the total cost, a factor which may work in favour of FaceTech.
The South African firm may also be considered as it is the only one short-listed with an experience in BVR in Africa having been involved in voter registration in South Africa, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Namibia and Lesotho. On Friday, Indian firm 4G, knocked out due to what IEBC said was negative information, wrote to IEBC denying it was blacklisted in their country. "Whereas it is not our responsibility to ask for our status in the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), we found it fit to write to them on our status which was necessitated by negative image planted on us and more so the fact that same media reports have misled the Kenyan public that our company is blacklisted in India, though we have never been blacklisted," 4G chairman and CEO Sreeni Tripuraneni wrote.
Sreeni attached a letter from UIDIA which showed that 4G was issued a "show cause" letter on account of alleged sub contracting of enrolment work contrary to terms and conditions of empanelment as well as alleged non-compliance of enrolment process. "The reply from 4G has been received and is under active consideration," the letter from UIDIA states.
Last week, 4G claimed that a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official sought a Sh30 million bribe or else he would sabotage their bid by writing a negative letter. Yesterday, Foreign Affairs assistant minister Richard Onyonka said Mr R.A. Goenka is Kenya's Honorary Consul in Mumbai but the allegations can only be proved through investigation agencies.
The country risks going back to the manual voter register following the controversy surrounding the delayed tender for the Sh3.9 billion biometric voter registration kits. The old manual register was condemned by the Kreigler Commission as prone to manipulation, multiple registration and even cases where "dead" people were able to vote in the December 27, 2007 polls.
Yesterday, highly placed sources at the IEBC indicated that if the polls are to be held in March 4, 2013 as scheduled, then registering voters manually is one of the options. The commission, according to insiders, may go for a single sourcing, citing the urgency and time constraints to justify the option by seeking the authority of Treasury.
However, procurement expert Dennis Omondi warns that this shortcut would face legal hurdles as "single sourcing is only done when a company is the sole supplier or manufacturer of that product." The IEBC chairman Issack Hassan sought to the allay fears that the country will go back to the old system, saying they intend to use kits from the pilot project conducted in 2010 if the delivery of the new kits delays. The pilot project was undertaken by Canada's Code Inc in 18 constituencies. However, the same firm did not even make the shortlist because of submitting a defective bid bond.
However, according to IT experts, this proposal may not be workable since the software used during the pilot project in 18 constituencies is patented by Code Inc. And unless Code cedes their rights, it will be almost impossible to use the kits. Again, experts have warned that the kits supplied by Code are incontrovertible with what IEBC had tendered for in the new BVR kits. The Code kits' software was designed to capture only two fingers (thumbprints) while the one advertised should capture all the ten fingers plus the face. "We consulted our IT experts and they told us that the system can be manipulated to fit into the new kits once they are delivered," Hassan said. "In the din of complying with these requirements, some people may conclude that there is some protraction and gridlock within the Commission. We would like to assure Kenyans that we will professionally and expeditiously conclude this matter in time to deliver free and fair elections," Hassan added.
However even with this assurance and given that the tender has not bee awarded, a look at the timeliness (both legal and policy) paints a dim picture of reality. The law requires that 90 days before the elections, (December 4) the voters register is ready. The IEBC is also provided with 30 days to conduct registration, another 30 days for inspection of the register by voters and an extra 30 days to correct and clean up the registrar. This when backdated means that IEBC should commence the registration exercise by September 4, less than two weeks from today. Again, this is when its assumed that IEBC can conduct voter and civic education concurrently with the registration.
Only last week the IEBC advertised 2,900 vacancies for registration clerks. The deadline for applications was extended from yesterday July 29, to August 8. The nightmare IEBC faces in this task is how to over come credibility test facing the award of the biometric tender to ensure the programme is up and running. If the IEBC awards the tender to Symphony after due diligence, the law requires a 14-day window to the losers to petition the Public Procurement and Oversight Authority (PPOA) or go to court if they are dissatisfied. Another 14 days is provided within which the contract can be negotiated between the vendor and tenderer before three more days to sign the contract.
The 4G of India has indicated it will contest the award while FaceTech too have indicated the same with claims that the tender committee had already awarded them the deal. The tender conditions give the winner 70 days to make orders and deliver the 9,750 kits to IEBC. This means if the eventual winner gets the contract by August 1, the earliest the commission can get the kits is mid October. The long period provided for delivery of the kits is due to the fact that they are not ready-made in shop shelves but will have to be manufactured and tailor-made to suit the IEBC specifications.
The 14 kits that include solar panels, laptop, inverter, battery, chargers, scanners, and camera will be imported from different countries. The 9,750 kits if made available will then be used in the over 34,000 polling centres in 1,450 wards of 290 constituencies; which means one kit will serve on a rotation basis at least three polling centres.
Sections of the civil society on Thursday called on the IEBC to revert to the manual system of voter registration, arguing that the debate generated by the alleged impropriety in the awarding of tenders for the electronic voter register was not good for the commission's integrity. International Center for Policy and Conflict executive director Ndung'u Wainaina, former Kenya National Human Rights Commission boss Maina Kiai and CEO of National Convention Executive Council Cyprian Nyamwamu said the BVR tender was too much steeped in controversy to earn public trust and confidence. "It is only advisable at this stage for us to go back to our old process that we have registered voters, that is, manually. It will take a very short time," said Ndung'u.
At the same time, former anti-corruption chief John Githongo called on the IEBC to open up the BVR tender process to public scrutiny and clear any odd perceptions of the firms involved. According to Githongo, the procurement process needs to gain public trust above anything else. “The financial and technical aspects (of the shortlisted bidders) may be right but what of the public perception? Public perception is 80 per cent of the process while the rest constitutes only 20 per cent,” he said.