IEBC fires procurement director over ballot tender

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati (R) and former CEO Ezra Chiloba during a press conference in Nairobi on February 7, 2017 / FILE
IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati (R) and former CEO Ezra Chiloba during a press conference in Nairobi on February 7, 2017 / FILE

The IEBC is in turmoil, 61 days to the General Election, and has in less than two weeks kicked out two high profile staff that headed key directorates.

The seven-member commission headed by Wafula Chebukati yesterday sent on compulsory leave Procurement Director Lawy Aura, lifting the lid on the procurement mess at the IEBC.

In a communication to the public, the IEBC chiefs said Aura was sent packing following delays in the Sh2.5 billion ballot papers tender.

Exactly 12 days ago, the Chebukati team sent on compulsory leave IT Director James Muhati, following accusations that he had refused to cooperate in an ongoing audit of ICT systems.

Sources told the Star that Aura’s suspension was due to growing anxiety that the lucrative printing tender was deliberately being skewed to favour a certain bidder.

The house cleaning by Chebukati rekindles memories of the multi-million-shillion ChickenGate scandal, where top IEBC bosses were indicted for pocketing kickbacks from a similar tender.

The ballot papers tender has been cancelled twice.

It was first terminated by the High Court and then by the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board, with the latter returning a damning verdict on the IEBC.

The review board censured the IEBC for flouting all manner of procurement rules in an effort to ensure a repeat of the first tendering process that saw Dubai- based firm Al Ghurair Printing & Publishing win the deal.

Yesterday, IEBC Commissioner Roselyn Akombe confessed they were forced to crack the whip because of the damning ruling by the review board. Akombe said that after their appointment in early 2017, they asked the secretariat to re-advertise the tender as directed by the High Court.

But the secretariat opted for restricted tendering, which was again terminated by the review board.

“The conclusion of that report [review board] was that the procurement process of the ballot papers was so flawed that it could not be perceived as having been consistent with the Constitution and other laws of the country. So when you are faced with a situation like that, you have no choice but to ask people to step aside,” a tough-talking Akombe said yesterday.

CEO Ezra Chiloba was spared the axe, with the commissioners saying they are satisfied with his conduct.

But Akombe fought off claims that the Commission was rocked by tender wars and there was bad blood between commissioners and the secretariat.

“Let me make it very clear to the Kenyan people that we are persons of integrity at the Commission. None of us has been engaged in any practice that is anywhere close to ChickenGate. We are not involved in acts of corruption. We are not engaged in any acts of fighting over tenders,” she emphasised.

The IEBC is set to host a three-day national elections conference from Monday next week, where many stakeholders are likely to ask tough questions.

The Commission has signaled that they would once again award the ballot papers contract through direct procurement.

This was also the case in the controversial Sh4 billion procurement of the integrated electoral management system to French firm Safran Identity and Security.

“We will be coming out in a short while to announce to the nation the decision on the ballot papers,” Akombe said during an interview on Citizen TV.

However, sources said the tender has once again been awarded to Al Ghurair.

The firm has supplied ballot papers to the IEBC in all the by-elections since 2013.

Top officials of the firm are said to have visited the Commission on Monday and Tuesday this week.

“They have been called today to negotiate pricing. We do not know what the negotiations would be based on because negotiations should be determined by the market rate,” our sources said.

Muhati was sent on compulsory leave even as the IEBC prepares to test this Friday the technology infrastructure that it will deploy on August 8.

The Star on May 9 exclusively reported that technology giant Oracle had raised the red flag that the software supplied with new election equipment could be fake.

The IEBC denied the allegations.

In an interview yesterday, Akombe admitted that that some critical departments within the Commission were a let down.

She however said that the announcement of internal happenings was a sign of transparency and confidence in their work.

“I believe this actually shows the transparency with which the IEBC is operating,” Akombe said.

However, there are concerns that one firm will not be able to print the 130 million ballot papers with hi-tech security features within the next two months.

“There is no supplier with the capacity of having almost 15 tonnes of papers. Nobody will have 15 tonnes of paper waiting for Kenya. The best is for the IEBC to split the tender among the various suppliers,” a source within the Commission said.

According to the initial tender documents, the ballot papers should contain stringent new security features to prevent charges of forgery, ballot-stuffing and rigging that plagued the disputed 2013 polls.

They should, for instance, have at least one generic watermark visible when visually examined under normal light.

They should also have at least two security features visible only under UV light, one of them the IEBC logo.

The national conference, to be held at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre, will focus on, among other things, the accuracy and completeness of the voter register, security and voter education.