Controversy plagues firm contracted to provide election technologies

Company has been accused of providing kits that are vulnerable to tampering

In Summary
  • IEBC has been on the spot over its procurement process in vetting and awarding of the tender to the firm.
  • Firm says it has successfully deployed secure election technologies in more than 30 countries.
An IEBC clerk uses KIEMS kit during voting on August 8, 2017.
CREDIBLE ELECTIONS: An IEBC clerk uses KIEMS kit during voting on August 8, 2017.
Image: FILE

Smartmatic International, the company contracted to supply the voter identification system in next month’s polls is no stranger to controversy.

Established in 2000, Smartmatic initially developed security software for the banking industry.

However, in its first year the firm found itself embroiled in a major controversy; the “hanging chad” incident of the 2000 US election.

The incident was blamed for the unusually high proportion of invalid votes recorded in Florida.

On Thursday, one of its employees was arrested at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in contentious circumstances.

The foreigner was arrested after police suspected him of impropriety upon landing with IEBC material declared as “personal luggage.”

IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati termed the arrest as “unjustified intimidation, harassment and blackmail.”

“The commission has a valid legal contract executed between itself and Smartmatic International BV for the supply, delivery, installation, testing, commissioning, support and maintenance of the Kenya Integrated Election Management System,” he said.

Chebukati accused unnamed persons of intimidating the commission.

The Venezuelan was released on Friday after police established that the election-related stickers he had were genuine material belonging to the electoral agency.

The company has a controversial record that has seen multiple countries question the reliability of its technology in the aftermath of poll disputes.

Smartmatic has defended itself against these accusations, claiming allegations made against it are false and intended to harm its business.

The firm says it has successfully deployed secure election technologies in more than 30 countries.

It says election officials have used Smartmatic systems to record and tabulate more than 6.5 billion votes with zero security breaches.

“We pioneered voting machines with voter-verified paper records, a feature that is now the de facto standard for automated election worldwide,” the company says on its website.

As the supplier of the Kenya Integrated Election Management System kits, Smartmatic has taken centre-stage in debates about election credibility.

It was contracted by IEBC to supply up to 10,000 KIEMS kits for use in the upcoming polls.

It is also the software provider for the kits, having replaced OT Morpho, now called Idemia, which was the technology service provider for IEBC in 2017.

IEBC’s contract award to Smartmatic was challenged at the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board, which had nullified it following an appeal by Risk Africa Innovatis.

However, the High Court later allowed IEBC to proceed and award the contract to Smartmatic.

Smartmatic was awarded a Sh4 billion tender in November 2021, beating three other companies Indra Soluciones Tecnologias De La Informacion, Genkey Solutions BV, Laxton Group and Africa Infrastructure Development Company.

IEBC has been on the spot over its procurement process in vetting and awarding of the tender to the firm.

While addressing a press conference on July 13, IEBC Chief Executive Officer Hussein Marjan was hard-pressed to explain how the firm won the tender.

"Did you know that in Uganda the biometrics failed, forcing them to revert to manual. In Venezuela, the company in its own admission said the turnout voter system was manipulated by at least one million voters.

"Did you establish that before you awarded the company?” a journalist asked Marjan.

Philippine authorities have also alleged that Smartmatic "is compromised."

Newspaper reports have indicated that a government agency of Philippines, Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Centre concluded that Smartmatic "is compromised" following the 2016 election.

Smartmatic has also been criticised in the US after it provided election technology in one US county during the 2020 polls

A media house accused the firm of promoting a false narrative in the aftermath of the hotly contested 2020 US election.

The tech firm responded and accused Fox Corporation of “joining the conspiracy to defame and disparage Smartmatic and its election technology and software.”

After the presidential recall referendum of 2004 in Venezuela, some controversy was raised about the use of electronic voting (SAES voting machines).

Studies following a recall election found that Smartmatic's network was "bi-directional" with data being able to be transferred both ways between Smartmatic devices and the telecommunications company CANTV.

Irregularities were allegedly found between the Smartmatic and Venezuela's National Electoral Council election results.

Multiple sources simply state that Smartmatic is a Venezuelan company.

(Edited by Bilha Makokha)

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