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Poor planning blamed for flawed poll

NAIROBI, August 26 – Poor planning and indecision were on Tuesday cited as the main reasons why the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) did not employ the use of modern technology during last year’s acrimonious elections.

ECK’s head of Information Technology Ayub Imbira told the Independent Review Commission (IREC) headed by Justice Johan Kriegler that his bosses failed to support a UN-funded project that would have ensured a computerised vote-tallying system countrywide.

“I did a good proposal but the logistics that go into implementation were not fully done leading to it not being piloted and in fact used as it had been envisaged,” Imbira said.

“The plenary approved it in June but the communication came to me in August.”

Some Commissioners, he added, objected to the system arguing that the public would not have trusted the use of technology in the polls.

His sentiments came barely a week after ECK Chairman Samuel Kivuitu and Commissioner Jack Tumwa absolved themselves and fellow commissioners from any malpractices, choosing to shift blame to junior officers.

ECK received support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for the project with the aim of eliminating errors in tabulation of results and to ensure a faster and more reliable dispatch of the information to the national tallying centre in Nairobi.

Initial plans were to use the computers during a voter registration drive in March 2007 but, Imbira revealed, the computers arrived late.

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Many Returning Officers (RO), he said, were not fully competent to use the system while a pilot project on the system slated for October 2007 never kicked off. His advice to have Commissioners recruits ICT competent ROs and clerks was not taken seriously.

Owing to these challenges the Commission’s IT expert therefore recommended that the program be suspended.

Although ECK dispatched the computers to all the 210 constituencies prior to the elections, only the Kieni Returning Officer (RO) put it to use for vote tallying. Nevertheless his results had errors, stamping Imbira’s view that most of the ROs were not fully prepared for the system.

While giving his evidence last week, Tumwa had defended his fellow Commissioners noting that owing to the intensity of the polls they had prioritised experience in the recruitment.

On his part, Kivuitu admitted that massive arithmetic errors were discovered in the election documents, most of which they had attributed to manual tabulations of the results.
The IT officer, nevertheless said that he was pleased that the system was abandoned noting that it could have resulted to more disaster than the manual one.

Imbira insisted: “I am proposing that when we develop the prerequisite competency, we substitute the manual way of tabulating results.”

He noted that the implementation needed to be taken in consultations with political parties and other stakeholders to ensure acceptability.

“Paper trail has been used, people have developed faith in it, it works and that is why people are a bit jittery in leaving it,” he added.

He, however, admitted to the possibility that mischievous people could hack into the system and interfere with the figures.

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IREC winds up its proceedings mid next month.

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