Embattled IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati yesterday said that he will not resign despite his leadership of the commission being disparaged by three colleagues.
But as he put on a brave face, the die was cast, as political opinion converged on the need to clean out the stables and restructure the commission.
Chebukati was struck by news of the resignation of his Vice Chair Connie Maina, Commissioners Paul Kurgat and Margret Wanjala as he began a meeting with staff at Anniversary Towers.
"The chairman was caught totally unawares. When he started the meeting, he told us that Mwachanya was away on official duty, Kurgat was on leave and Maina was on her way to attend the meeting,” a member of staff said..
“Once the news broke, the chair looked very shocked but put up a brave face,” said the senior staff.
“He also told us that work will continue even as staff challenged him to explain if the commission was properly constituted with quorum to transact business.”
He told the staff that he will not resign because each commissioner is appointed to serve in their individual capacity.
With Roselyn Akombe having quit days before the October 26 repeat presidential election and CEO Ezra Chiloba suspended, the chairman is now bereft of a quorum to run the affairs of the commission.
He was left with only two commissioners: Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu. By their resignation, they effectively rendered those remaining useless, as the commission lacks the quorum to function. The courts have previously ruled in the case of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission that a commission is not legally constituted without commissioners.
The IEBC Act 2012 (Clause 5) states that “the quorum for the conduct of business at a meeting of the Commission shall be at least five members of the Commission.”
It further states that the CEO shall be the secretary of all the meetings of the commission.
The High Court last month struck out as unconstitutional amendments introduced to the Act in 2016 that reduced the quorum to half the sitting members, and decisions to be carried by a simple majority.
“The events related to the purported vote (to suspend the CEO) have greatly shaken our already feeble confidence in the chair,” the three said in their resignation statement.
They said that not all the six commissioners were present, as required, when the vote was taken against Chiloba on April 5.
Chebukati had called yesterday's meeting to explain Chiloba’s controversial suspension, but only Commissioner Guliye was with him.
He told staff that all commissioners were hired as individuals and not collectively and so those remaining can still serve out their terms.
In a statement later in the afternoon, Chebukati said he had learned of the commissioners’ resignation from news reports and would respond after he is formally informed.
But as Chebukati was vowing to stay put, it was almost a foregone conclusion that he was living on borrowed time. Political leaders across the divide were united in their resolve to eject him from the commission.
“Chebukati, Molu & Guliye must resign from IEBC within the next seven days or we form a tribunal to investigate them,' said Senate Majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen yesterday.
New Senate Minority Leader James Orengo, described the IEBC as a cursed organisation, which has been captured by Jubilee last year. Its staff became greedy as they managed procurement activities, he claimed.
"Chebukati must now lead other commissioners out by tendering his resignation together with the two remaining commissioners and the entire secretariat," said Orengo in a statement.
National Assembly Majority leader Aden Duale, too, demanded Chebukati’s exit.
Also read: Chebukati and rest must pack up and go
The new intrigues have lifted the lid on simmering rifts and leadership crisis at the IEBC that oversaw the most chaotic elections since Independence.
The three commissioners accused Chebukati of incompetence and for the first time admitted that external players had undermined the Commission's independence.
"The Commissioners must all serve solely for the purpose that we were appointed. We must banish external players from the Commission boardroom and reclaim the Commission's independence,” the three said in a statement.
Interestingly, Maina, Kurgat as well as Commissioners Molu and Guliye have been accused of allegedly doing Jubilee's biding in the Commission during the 2017 polls.
Before the repeat October 26 presidential polls, Chebukati and ex-Commissioner Akombe outrightly accused some commissioners of being partisan and vetoing their proposals.
ODM Chairman John Mbadi said reconstitution of IEBC must be part of the unity talks between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga.
“The best thing is for the three remaining to quit so that we can as a country have an opportunity to talk seriously about IEBC,” said Mbadi.
“A body that cannot agree on a simple matter like internal audit and CEO's suspension, how can you trust that body to oversee a presidential election? I think finally we have been vindicated that we had a wrong team to manage our elections.”
But NASA CEO Norman Magaya claimed the resignation was part of Deputy President William Ruto's fight back plan to have Chiloba re-instated.
“The Ruto wing of IEBC has quit. Ruto wants Chiloba back by all means. It is either Chiloba is reinstated or the entire commission goes down. Savage, I must say,” he stated.
He went on: “Henceforth, political parties should nominate IEBC Commissioners. Neutrality and impartiality in Kenyan electoral process is a fallacy. Every Kenyan has an entrenched political inclination... Let's stop the lie.”
But in an official statement to newsrooms, Chebukati said he only learnt of the resignations from media reports and has not received any official communication on the matter.
“The Commission will give a comprehensive statement at an appropriate time,” he promised.
However, according to the law, the resignations are addressed to the President and not to the IEBC Chairman.
"The IEBC cabal that has resigned today are the personification of electoral impunity and electoral authoritarianism. Purging of the secretariat is the next logical step," said Felix Odhiambo, an election expert who has worked closely with IEBC.
There has been serious in fighting at the electoral body, the most pronounced being the frequent power fights between Chebukati and Chiloba that almost undermined the conduct of last year's polls.
Former Commissioner Akombe blew the whistle on the rot at the Commission when she resigned from her position a week to the repeat presidential poll, citing serious external political interference. The claim was backed by Chebukati but dismissed by the rest of the Commissioners.
“It has become increasingly difficult to continue attending plenary meetings where commissioners come ready to vote along partisan lines and not to discuss the merit of issues before them,” stated Akombe in her resignation letter.
The collapse of the Chebukati led team puts in jeopardy crucial electoral plans including the mandatory post-election evaluation report which must be presented to Parliament, and tens of pending by-elections and the 2019 boundaries review.
The surprise resignation of the three commissioners has forced the National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs committee to postpone its Wednesday meeting with Chebukati, Chiloba and other commissioners.
The committee chaired by William Cheptumo (Baringo North) was to grill the IEBC officials on the prolonged wrangling between Chebukati and Chiloba that were paralyzing the commission's operations.
“We are supposed to meet as a committee to see how to go about this matter. Our planned meeting on Wednesday will not go on from the new developments at IEBC," Cheptumo told the Star yesterday at Parliament Buildings.
The National Assembly's Public Accounts committee chaired by Opiyo Wandayi (Ugunja) has, however, summoned Chebukati to appear before it on Monday next week over audit queries and the goings-on at the IEBC.
Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua lauded the three commissioners' action.
“It is a good thing that Ezra Chiloba has been sent on compulsory leave. But these actions are too little too late. Their resignation is good riddance and should pave way for the exit of the remaining two commissioners and the chairman to give Kenya an opportunity to progress in the management of our elections," Wambua said at a press conference at Parliament Buildings.