Rift erupts in IEBC over ROs deployment 

Wednesday, April 6th, 2022 00:36 | By
Wafula chebukati-presidential aspirants
IEBC chairperson Wafula Chebukati. PHOTO/Courtesy

A major rift has erupted in the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) over deployment of Returning Officers (ROs) to oversee the August 9 General - Election.

At the centre of the differences are claims by a section of the commissioners, particularly those who were recently appointed, of allegedly being sidelined in the commission’s operations in the countdown to the highly-anticipated polls.

The dissatisfied commissioners accuse IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Marjan Hussein Marjan of unilaterally appointing Constituency Returning Officers and their deputies and 47 County Returning Officers and their deputies.

The IEBC rift has escalated to some political parties, which have raised eyebrows over the criteria used in the appointments given the political heat that the presidential race has generated.

Proposed appointments

The General-Election appears to have been reduced to a two-horse race between Azimio La Umoja–One Kenya coalition’s Raila Odinga and Kenya Kwanza’s Deputy President William Ruto.

On April 1, the Registrar of Political Parties Anne Nderitu wrote to political parties urging them to submit to her office and IEBC their views on the proposed names of the County Returning Officers and their deputies and 271 Constituency Returning Officers and their deputies within 14 days.

Regulation 3 of the Elections (General) regulations of 2012 requires that IEBC provides the list of all persons proposed for appointment as RO and their deputies to all political parties and independent candidates at least 14 days before they are appointed.

This, according to the law, grants the stakeholders an opportunity to make any representation on the proposed persons to be appointed to the offices.

“In compliance with the cited law, the commission asked the Registrar of Political Parties to share with political parties the list of the proposed officers for each of the 290 constituencies and 47 counties,” Ms Nderitu observes in her letter.

She adds: “Any feedback or representation should be done in writing within 14 days of this letter. The representation should be addressed to the commission with a copy to the Registrar’s office.”

It is this letter that fuelled the rift at the electoral agency, with a section of the commissioners demanding that Chebukati rescinds the proposed appointments until after their involvement.

“The new commissioners feel sidelined in all the operations as they are never consulted on anything. We only come to learn of most of the decisions taken through the media,” one of the aggrieved commissioners told People Daily.

But Chebukati downplayed the issue of a rift at the commission, insisting that the CEO had the sole prerogative to appoint ROs as specified in law.

“I am not aware of any rift over the deployment of ROs. The deployment of ROs is an operational activity that is handled by the CEO in terms of the existing legal framework, policies and manuals,” Chebukati said when contacted.

The tiff between a section of the commissioners and Chebukati could be a repeat of the 2017 scenario where the IEBC chairman fell out with his then  CEO Ezra Chiloba.

The Chebukati-Chiloba relationship was always mechanical, exhibiting a clear lack of trust between the two, to an extent that even mundane internal issues were detailed in memos.

Insiders say Chebukati seemed convinced that Chiloba was wily and in need of constant micro-managing to stop him from undermining authority. On the other hand, Chiloba was dismissive of his boss as an arrogant person in haste to fault-find and apportion blame.

Critical role

For instance, when on September 7, 2017, Chebukati gave Chiloba a couple of hours to explain the bungling of the August election, the latter took his time and responded four days later without even making the slightest attempt to explain or excuse the delay.

In the current case, commissioners critical of Chebukati claim that the deployment of ROs ought to have emanated from a plenary meeting by the commissioners and not through a unilateral decision.

The ROs play a critical role in the electoral process, as they have statutory authority to conduct polling, oversee the counting process and decide the validity of ballot papers. Decisions made by ROs are final as the commission has no powers to overturn them.

Besides ensuring the entire process is conducted within the law, the RO is expected to be impartial without appearing to favour any candidate or political party.

In 2017, the repeat presidential election was almost marred after High Court Judge George Odunga suspended the appointment of ROs and Presiding Officers on grounds that the process of appointing them had been irregular and illegal.

However, Court of Appeal judges Eastus Githinji, Martha Koome and Fatuma Sichale came to the rescue when they overruled Odunga’s unexpected decision.

According to Justice Odunga, the gazetment of the IEBC officials was illegally done and had violated the Elctions Act.

“The respondent (IEBC) did not provide the list of persons proposed for political parties and independent candidates at least 14 days prior to the proposed day of appointment to enable them make any representation, and in so doing, the respondent violated Regulation 3 (2),” Justice Odunga had ruled.

Yesterday, former IEBC vice-chairman Gabriel Mukele urged commissioners to iron out their differences before it is late.

“We saw what such differences did to the outcome of the 2017 polls and this does not augur well for the country. The commissioners should sort out their differences before they boomerang,” Mukele warned.

Mukele was a member of the commission that presided over the 2007 General Election whose disputed outcome led to the post-election violence that left more than 1,000 people dead and thousands displaced.

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