Huduma Namba link to voter register criticised

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021 00:00 | By
President Uhuru Kenyatta and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta display their Huduma Namba cards during the 11th Mashujaa Day celebrations at Gusii Stadium in Kisii. Photo/PD/Gerald Ithana

Jeremiah Kiplang’at

A proposal to link Huduma Namba with the voter register has elicited sharp reactions with leaders calling on the government to immediately withdraw a controversial Bill pending before the National Assembly. 

The leaders said the government must desist from engaging in questionable acts that might interfere with the credibility of the 2022 General Election.

The Huduma Bill, 2021, had been listed on yesterday’s order paper containing the National Assembly’s business of the day but the House adjourned before it could be read.

Bill seeks to create the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS) that will act as the primary database bearing details of all Kenyans.

Bill also makes it mandatory for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to compile its voter register using the new system.

Additionally, the Bill, which is sponsored by Majority Leader Amos Kimunya, makes it mandatory for Kenyans to acquire Huduma Namba that will be used to access their details in NIIMS.

The Namba will also replace the Kenya Revenue Authority Personal Identification Number, among other radical proposals enumerated in the proposed law.

Yesterday, Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi warned against any attempted interference on the voter register with eight months to the 2022 elections, saying such a move would damage the poll’s credibility. 

Delicate component

“A voter register is the most sensitive and delicate component of our elections.

It is dangerous to do anything that will further dent public interest or that may be (mis) interpreted as mischief, to such a sensitive register, especially when we are already in the active phase of the electoral cycle,” Mudavadi said in a statement.

Electoral body is in the final stages of developing the 2022 voter register with plans in place to conduct the final mass registration next month. 

A week ago, IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati confirmed that the agency will give eligible Kenyans one more chance to register after falling short of the target in the last exercise.

Mudavadi said the country should not be psychologically prepared for what he termed “vifaranga vya Huduma Number” through the Bill that has attracted criticism for also making it compulsory for one to have the Namba in order to acquire government services.

“The Huduma Namba system has serious gaps which elicit minimum public trust.

It must not be used for purposes of developing and/or managing a voter register for our forthcoming elections… in 2017 we cried about ‘vifaranga vya computer’.

Do we want to cry again in 2022 about Vifaranga vya Huduma Namba?” he posed.

Vifaranga vya computer was a term coined by Opposition leader Raila Odinga when he accused the electoral commission of rigging the 2017 elections in favour of his opponent Uhuru Kenya through data manipulation.

Huduma Namba Bill is at the First Reading stage, which is primarily its introduction to the House.

It will then proceed to the Second Reading when MPs will get an opportunity to debate it and suggest amendments or shoot it down before it proceeds to the committee stage.

If it sails through the Third Reading, which is the final stage, it will be taken to the President for assent or rejection.

If it becomes law before the next elections, IEBC might be forced to rework its register to align its data with it. 

Yesterday, Mudavadi said IEBC’s independence will be adversely impacted if the Bill were to become law.

“IEBC is the mandated custodian of voter’s data and register and the use of Huduma Namba system will adversely affect this role and be perceived to be creating a parallel IEBC,” he said.

Deputy President William Ruto’s allies also said the Bill’s introduction in the National Assembly a few months to the polls raises suspicions and vowed to vote it down if they established that it will interfere with IEBC’s roles in conducting free and fair elections.

Highly suspect

Soy MP Caleb Kositany said they suspected the government was trying to find ways of rigging the upcoming elections

“It is highly suspect, once it is brought to the House we will look at it critically and  reject if it is aimed at interfering with the elections,” said Kositany, a close ally of the DP. 

MPs allied to Raila, however, declined to comment on the Bill, saying they had not read it.

Minority Leader John Mbadi and Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi promised to comment on the Bill once they read it.

Huduma Namba has been a source of controversy pitting the government and opponents since it was launched in 2019.

It has been a source of political fodder as Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i clashed with Ruto allies who have raised issues with the way the government was rolling it out.  

They have sensationally claimed that it is part of a plot to rig the 2022 elections.  

Matiang’i and his ICT counterpart Joe Mucheru have, however, dismissed the concerns, terming them far-fetched.

In October, the High Court declared Huduma Namba rollout illegal for contravening the Data Protection Act following a petition by the Katiba Institute.

The court asked the government to align the process with existing laws before registering more Kenyans. Attorney-General Kihara Kariuki has since appealed the ruling.

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