Focus turns to Chebukati team as BBI beckons

Friday, November 22nd, 2019 00:00 | By
IEBC chair Wafula Chebukati. Photo/File

The Senate will be in focus next week as pressure mounts on its members to speed up enactment of a law to guide the replacement of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) members, who resigned last year. 

However, the proposed law faces a hurdle as lawmakers allied to Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) have threatened to vote against it unless a clause is included to ensure “a complete overhaul” of the current IEBC.

 The moves comes amid an intense debate on the Building Bridges Initiative(BBI), which includes among other issues electoral reforms, especially on IEBC.

Raila’s allies are adamant that the entire team of IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati and the two remaining commissioners, Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu, should be removed if meaningful reforms are to be achieved at the electoral agency. 

Last evening, Senate Leader of Minority James Orengo who is also the Siaya Senator said ODM’s position on the overhaul of IEBC has not changed.

“We in ODM believe that there are no positive reforms that can be expected from the IEBC with the team of Chebukati still in office. We must start afresh, and this must entail bringing in new faces, new structures and laws governing their operations,” Orengo said.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Bill 2019 will next week be tabled in the Senate for ratification. It has already received the nod of the National Assembly.

The Senate Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, which is chaired by Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei, is on Tuesday scheduled to table a report on the Bill for consideration by Members.

The Bill was sponsored by the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee of the National Assembly, chaired by Baringo North MP William Cheptumo. It provides for the establishment of an 11-member permanent selection panel to oversee recruitment of commissioners and subsequent appointments should a vacancy arise. 

Once the Bill is approved and signed into law by the President and a panel constituted, its first order of business shall be to fill the vacancies.

“The report (on the Bill) is almost complete. We hope that it will be done by Monday next week so that I can lay it before the House on Tuesday,” Cherargei told People Daily yesterday.

Grave mistake

The panel shall comprise four persons nominated by the Parliamentary Service Commission, one person nominated by the Public Service Commission and another by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.

Others will be from the Law Society of Kenya, the National Gender and Equality Commission, the Attorney General, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya.

The current IEBC had seven commissioners but it has been operating with three, Chebukati (chairman), Guliye and Molu.

Just days before the October 26, 2017 repeat election, Commissioner Roselyn Akombe resigned and fled the country, saying she had received death threats. 

And in April last year, three others led by vice chair Consolata Nkatha, Paul Kurgat and Margaret Mwachanya also stepped down, accusing Chebukati of failing to provide proper leadership. 

Though with three commissioners IEBC is legally constituted, there are concerns because it does not have a quorum which should comprise at least five members.

 “The commission is validly constituted as it is today but the challenge is whether it can make any decision. The quorum is five commissioners and, therefore, with three, any decision they make could be challenged in court,” constitutional lawyer Kamotho Waiganjo said yesterday.

There is a lot pending in the team’s in-tray, including delimitation of boundaries, a possible referendum from the yet-to-be-tabled Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report as well as preparations for the 2022 elections.

This has led to concerns that any delay in filling the positions will be dangerous since the replacement might happen too close to the elections and the new commissioners will be inadequately prepared.

Chebukati is on record saying the commission will start reviewing electoral boundaries after the release of the national population census, whose results were released on November 4.

National Assembly Leader of Majority Aden Duale yesterday asked the Senate to speed up ratification of the Bill.  

 “Delaying in the setting up of the panel to recruit the commissioners is very dangerous because the people who will be picked will have no time to prepare and with the noises from the politicians, the commission will be polarised,” Duale said. 

Besides commissioners, the body does not have a substantive chief executive following the sacking of Ezra Chiloba after the last election. He has challenged the decision to sack him at the High Court.

The Justice (Rtd) Johannes Kriegler team, which investigated challenges of the 2007 polls, had suggested that the commission should be well in place two years to polling day. However, Chebukati has been defending the commission, saying there was no vacuum or cause for alarm. 

ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna said the current team is incapable of conducting a fair election and therefore retaining it would be a grave mistake.

Muran’ga Senator Irungu Kang’ata, who is also the Jubilee Deputy Whip in Senate, noted that the commission must be addressed as fast as possible, cautioning  that any delays would be courting trouble.

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