OPEN LETTER

BBI polls proposal could cause chaos, Chebukati warns

Says any reform process should fortify the independence and integrity of the elections from political interference.

In Summary
  • IEBC says electoral disputes would likely recur in 2022 General Election if their views will be ignored.
  • Recommendations of both the Kreigler Commission and the Kofi Annan team must be adhered to by all stakeholders involved in elections, he says.
IEBC chair Wafula Chebukati
IEBC chair Wafula Chebukati
Image: FILE

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has come out to defend its survival threatened by proposals in the BBI report.

A detailed opinion of the IEBC was made public on Wednesday as commissioners stare at possible disbandment of the electoral agency should the Building Bridges Initiative report sail through without amendments.

IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati in an open letter to Kenyans warned that electoral disputes especially in presidential results would likely recur in the 2022 General Election if their views will be ignored.

The BBI proposes IEBC chiefs should be vetted afresh before the next election in what is seen as a tactic to force Chebukati and his team out.

Chebukati said the perpetual disbandment of IEBC staff and commissioners after every contested election often leads to loss of institutional memory and instability, high turnover of the decision-making body and loss of competent staff and gains in electoral management.

“The persistent late enactment or amendment of electoral laws too close to elections undermines planning and implementation of electoral activities within the set electoral time lines,” he said.

The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2020 in the BBI states that within 30 days from the commencement of the Act, IEBC commissioners who are in office shall be vetted to determine their suitability to continue serving.

The proposal has been seen to suggest that the country needs to get new IEBC commissioners before 2022.

Chebukati however maintained that the success of Kenya's elections will only be guaranteed if IEBC is shielded from politically-induced pressure both in its formation and operations.

He added that IEBC should enjoy financial autonomy and maintain a permanent competent staff and secretariat on a long-term basis.

He said the security of tenure of the commissioners should be secured and electoral reforms policy and legislation finalised at least two years before the election.

“If these tests are not met, it will not matter how many commissions are formed and disbanded,” Chebukati said.

The IEBC chief pointed out that any reform process should fortify the independence and integrity of the elections from political interference by eliminating rather than reinforcing the influence of the political class.

“Indeed, BBI’s correct finding and premise should, therefore, lead to a logical conclusion, which is: a recommendation to create a more solid constitutive and operational distance between the IEBC and the political class,” he reiterated.

Chebukati decried inadequate and untimely disbursement of funds to the electoral agency over the years.

“The commission’s funding has not been adequate and in tandem with the electoral cycle activities. The decision to allocate budget and release funds to IEBC is at the discretion of the National Treasury. This exposes the commission to the risk of state capture,” he explained.

He said there was a need to entrench the IEBC Fund in the Constitution to give the commission autonomy to manage its funds.

“However, at the very least, funding for the commission activities should be in tandem with its five-year electoral cycle, as opposed to providing funds in the year of elections,” he added.

Chebukati said nomination of commissioners by political parties, as recommended by the BBI report, “in a country with negative ethnicity and highly competitive politics and where most parties hardly last beyond a five-year electoral cycle,” will grossly undermine the independence of the commission.

“Political parties are loyalty-based institutions and are unlikely to have non-partisan individuals in their membership. Actions of such political appointees may be motivated by political or party interests contrary to Article 88 of the Constitution of Kenya,” he said.

He stated that the country should maintain the current independent expert model in appointment of the chairperson and commissioners to IEBC to guarantee impartiality.

Chebukati said recruitment of commissioners should be staggered to facilitate transfer of knowledge, institutional memory and growth.

He insisted that the recommendations of both the Kreigler Commission and the Kofi Annan team must be adhered to by all stakeholders involved in elections.

The recommendations state that an electoral management body must have a core cadre of permanent election officials in order to sustain institutional memory, continuous professional development and a culture of learning.

Edited by Henry Makori