IEBC dilemma in multi-billion poll kits tender

IEBC under pressure to lock out OT Morpho, but new suppliers' equipment poses integration challenges

In Summary

• IEBC, in the tender notice, says it projects the number of polling stations will increase to 53,000 by the time the country goes to the polls in 2022.

• It was advised it would be cheaper to use the firm’s system in the next election than procure a new company to supply the entire  poll technology.

A voter is registered using BVR kit
A voter is registered using BVR kit
Image: FILE

The electoral agency is stuck between a rock and a hard place as it seeks a new supplier for technology to manage the expected BBI referendum and 2022 General Election.

The commission intends to buy 10,000 voter identification tablets to upgrade an ageing database.

The deadline for tenders is June 4, according to a recent notice. 

The Wafula Chebukati-led team wants a supplier to test, commission, support, and maintain the Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (Kiems) software.

The server hosting the Biometric Voter Registration system acquired in 2012 cannot accommodate more voters and needs an upgrade.

The commission said the server has been breaking down because of old hardware.

IEBC also said the BVR software has a capacity of 20 million voters and has reached its limit.

“The current Register of Voters contains approximately 19.7 million voters and the Automatic Fingerprint Identification Fingerprint Software system may not cope with additional voter registrations until the capacity is expanded,” the notice reads.

The commission thus needs to upgrade its technology “with a view of addressing the emerging issues and experiences of the 2017 General Election".

Acting CEO Marjan Marjan said the agency is upgrading the existing system by adding certain features such as iris identification, better kits, improvement in results verification and the transmission system.

IEBC also wants to “put in place a support and maintenance contract in order to ensure the serviceability, reliability and availability of the election technology.”

But the commission is under pressure to lock out OT Morpho – which has been its poll technology supplier since 2012 –against its own internal advice by the ICT department that it should stick with the French firm.

It was advised it would be cheaper to use the firm’s system in the next election than procure a new company to supply the poll technology.

IEBC said there would be problems of integration and data migration as well as trouble with failing to renew Morpho’s contract, which expired January 7.

The dilemma is that on one hand, the company they can work with is OT Morpho but on the other hand, the firm has a lot of baggage that might ignite protests.

ODM leader Raila Odinga once accused the firm of being complicit in the alleged rigging of the election, which he lost.

Homa Bay Town MP Opondo Kaluma in January petitioned the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee of the National Assembly to compel the commission to cut business links with the firm.

This was after the IEBC sought to renew the firm’s contract, saying it threatened the deployment of technology in the upcoming referendum and by-elections.

The National Assembly in April 2019 adopted a report by the Public Investments Committee barring the French firm from doing business in Kenya for 10 years.

The firm appealed the resolution of the National Assembly at the High Court, which directed MPs to expunge the offensive references, a decision the House appealed.

Tender documents say tenders must provide a declaration on oath that the company and its directors are not under any investigation or involved in litigation on corruption and fraudulent practices.

OT Morpho — formerly Safran Identity and Security —has had to change its identity three times and has been in the eye of the storm over corruption allegations, which it denied.

It was linked with irregularities in Nigeria, implicated in election hacking by Russia and was blacklisted in Zambia and Canada.

IEBC, though, has over time wanted to give the contract to OT Morpho, saying it would save taxpayers time and costs of integrating new suppliers with the existing system.

Therefore, if they give the tender to another firm, they are likely to have a problem integrating the data, and bidders are already asking tough questions about this.

In the tender notice, IEBC says it projects the number of polling stations will grow to 53,000 by the time the country goes to the elections.

It currently has 43,000 of the 46,500 devices supplied under the controversial Sh6.8 billion tender to OT Morpho, which it says will not suffice considering the expected surge in number of voters.

“The commission can order on an ‘as and when required basis’ from the successful bidder to an estimated maximum of 53,000 kits. The quantity can vary upwards depending on the outcome of the voter registration,” the tender document reads.

It is these the commission says it wants to add to the ones it is procuring, even as it emerges that transferring data from one device to the new device  will be difficult.

Bidders are already concerned that they may not have access to all drivers, software development kits and libraries to operate all the commission's components of biometric tablets.

They are further jittery about whether there will be no proprietary blocking elements in the biometric tablets that would prevent software integration.

There is also a concern whether the contractor would not violate the intellectual property rights of the original manufacturer of the OT Morpho tablets.

Bidders are also uneasy on whether IEBC has full rights to use the biometric tablets in its possession given that the software was developed by a company that is not the original manufacture of the tablet.

The suppliers also want IEBC to provide guarantees that any company contracted for the project other than OT Morpho will have all elements at its disposal to integrate the system.

The commission, in its response in the addendum signed by Marjan, says it will take necessary steps to facilitate access to the drivers, SDK, and other elements of the biometric tablets.

Bidders have also raised concerns about the possibility of the system failing, especially the electronic voter identification (EVI) software that runs on Election Day.

Kits deployed in the 2017 elections, which IEBC appears to keen to build onto, failed on election day, and that was part of the reason the Supreme Court nullified the presidential election.

Potential tenderers also raised concerns they have no information regarding the operational capabilities of the tablets, which they say were purchased several years ago.

They cast doubts on whether the tablets could be relied upon for the operations requiring the tendered software proposal.

Marj, said the commission has been maintaining the hardware tablets to sure they are kept in working order.

Other questions were on whether the candidate management system exists and what its full functional specifications are, and whether it should be integrated with the new elections management system.

The tenderers have also asked if the commission could specify the existing hardware equipment available, whether it would be used for just some modules, or a common platform.

Among the questions is whether the contractor should specify the hardware requirements, if the existing one will be configured by third parties, and its current maintenance status.

On this, Marjan told the bidders the detailed description will be provided to the successful bidder, and the hardware will be provided by the IEBC.

The Biometric Voter Registration shall consist of a BVR front-end for the tablet that provides an interface for registration of voters.

The system should also have a BVR back-end and other central systems for the management of the register of voters.

The other component would be electronic voter verification and identification (EVV/EVI) with front-end capacity to identify and verify voters.

The system should also have back-end capacity for preparation and production of the biometric register of voters per polling station.

The commission wants the system to have a Results Transmission platform with capacity to capture results forms; and fitted with an interface for capturing text results on the tablet at the polling station It wants it to capture and upload results at tallying centres.

It should have a backend component for capturing, uploading and tallying and display of results at the tallying centre, candidates configuration, and publication of results at a public portal.

(edited by V. Graham) 

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