NAIROBI, June 25 – The role of Returning Officers, Presiding Officers and the polling clerks in the discrepancies reported in last year’s presidential results featured prominently during public hearings of the Kriegler Commission held in Nairobi on Wednesday.
Members of public giving who testified questioned the recruitment process of the officers noting that it lacked transparency and integrity.
The Kriegler-led Independent Review Commission (IREC) that held its first sitting in the capital heard that the officers colluded with party agents in various strongholds to allow for double voting and other election malpractices.
"Who appoints retuning officers, who appoints presiding officers, how are they appointed, are these jobs advertised?" one of the presenters questioned.
"Some of these officers had excessive powers because there are cases in my area where two presidential ballot papers were being issued," Cynthia Mutere a former parliamentary aspirant in Budalangi alleged.
For purposes of elections, the Electoral Commission Kenya (ECK) employs these officials on a temporary basis.
Returning Officers (RO) and Deputy Returning Officers (DRO) are mandated to, among other things, ensure that conduct of free and fair elections is upheld by election officers serving under them in their constituency.
The ECK however lacks clear recruitment criteria of the ROs and DROs. The commission requires that the officers come from the same district as their constituency.
While presenting their report to IREC early last month the electoral body admitted that the process is vulnerable to political influence as the commissioners have the authority to recommend and recruit the staff without any clear criteria.
The Returning officers and their assistants are also involved in the identification and recruitment of possible Presiding Officers, Deputy Presiding Officers, Polling and counting clerks. This responsibility, the members of public noted, is an opening for bias.
The officers enjoy power to announce the final results and the winning candidate of the elections in their constituencies even in cases where disputes are reported without any jurisdiction to attend to the claims. The members of the public recommended that these powers be checked and disputes resolution measures be put in place.
The role of the security officers was also on the spotlight as members of the public accused them of being compromised by politicians. Presenters at the hearings accused the officers of watching as voters were intimidated and assaulted.
"I was beaten in front of the OCS and the police and they did nothing," said Rajab Mohamend.
"Allowances must be paid to those police officers so that they are not used by politicians to do unfair practices," one presenter recommended.
Speakers also lamented that the Electoral body has no powers to deal with political violence. It lacks the legal mandate to deal with the violence as the law only allows disqualification of candidates in custody.
The presenters recommended that the commission be given powers to disqualify candidates who get involved in poll violence without having to go through the court.
The media was also highly scrutinized for creating presumptions over the results by relaying results that had not been confirmed by the ECK. There were recommendations that the electoral conduct be amended to cover the media as well.
"There were stations that spearheaded hate speech, tribal hatred and propagating lies," claimed Abdulhaman Bafadhili from Mombasa.
"If such images are projected around the countryside what do we really expect our fellow Kenyans to do?" added Narc Kenya activist Josephine Ojiambo.
Side shows were nevertheless reported in the hearing as supporters of PNU and ODM heckled each other. Judge Kreigler had a hard time cooling down tempers.
There was disquiet in the room when one of the speakers questioned why the commission failed to conduct oaths on the speakers before giving evidence. The commission did not respond to the query.
The Commission will pitch tent in Nairobi for the next two days before heading to Mandera next week. IREC was appointed to investigate the poll anomalies.
The call for the disbandment of the Electoral Commission has been dominant at previous sittings of the commission. ECK chairman Samuel Kivuitu has also been faulted for announcing the disputed results, although the law allows him to momentarily withhold results.
Kenyans have cited weaknesses in the electoral legislation and the inadequate constitutional and legal framework.
The commission is led by South African Judge Johan Kriegler and is mandated to investigate the circumstances surrounding the disputed presidential results of the last General Election.