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ECK staff backed by rights group

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 8 –  The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) has opposed government plans to sack all employees at the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) over last year’s general election fiasco.

Chairperson Florence Jaoko on Monday argued that the move was tantamount to victimisation of all staff including those who were not implicated directly in the debacle.

She has instead asked the government to launch investigations to find out those directly involved in bungling the elections.

“The fact of the matter is that ECK is not run by the Commissioners only.  It is run by the Commissioners and other staff. But staff have got different levels of engagement,” the KNCHR chairperson pointed out.

She however emphasised that any guilty individual either at the Commissioners’ or staff level should face the law.

“If it is established that your level of engagement and your conduct was wanting during that period, then you have no business being in the ECK whether you are a Commissioner or other staff,” she said.

Ms Jaoko also urged ECK staff members who would face wrongful dismissed to seek legal redress as stipulated in the Employment Act as this was the only way they would have their grievances addressed effectively.

 “I think if you are sacked, we have labour laws.  We have employment regulations that safeguard the rights of employees and the kind of process that they need to go through before they are sacked.  So they should be able to engage in those processes and be able to contest if they are being wrongfully dismissed,” Ms Jaoko stated.

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Last week, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua published the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2008 which will disband the ECK and replace it with an Interim Independent Electoral Commission. The Bill is expected to be debated and possibly passed in Parliament this week.

But as she spoke, Cabinet Minister Joseph Nyagah expressed his support for the Bill terming it a step in the right direction towards overhauling the ECK.

He said that the Bill once enacted, would restore professionalism to the electoral body.

 “They allowed themselves to be misused.  So if I were in charge of that programme (to reform the ECK), I would sack everyone but since I would need some people with experience, I would then re-hire those that are capable and are known to be reputable and full of integrity,” he stressed.

He continued:  “I would then use the occasion to sack the ones who allowed themselves to be misused.”

He described the Bill as a crucial step towards streamlining the country’s electoral process.

Already, employees at the ECK have threatened to go on a hunger strike from Tuesday if their employment was terminated along with that of the Commissioners.

The ECK employees termed the Bill as unfair as it sought to terminate the services of all staff regardless of the level of their involvement in the electoral process.

The employees argue that they are civil servants and there are regulations that govern the termination of their employment that should be followed.

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According to the new Bill, the IIEC’s chairman will be nominated by the National Accord Mediation Team and appointed by President Mwai Kibaki upon approval by Parliament.

The IIEC will take over the duties and functions of the ECK, including all assets and liabilities.

“The IIEC shall be the successor to ECK established by section 41(now repealed) and subject to this Constitution, all rights, duties, obligations, assets and liabilities of ECK shall automatically and fully transfer to IIEC,” the bill reads in part. "Any reference to the Electoral Commission of Kenya shall, for all purposes, be deemed to be a reference to the Interim Independent Electoral Commission."

When the Bill is passed, the 22 obstinate Commissioners led by Chairman Samuel Kivuitu will cease to be office holders of the ECK.  Parliament plans to go ahead to pass the law despite the existence of a case challenging the move.

In the meantime, ECK staff plan to hold peaceful demonstrations on Tuesday to push for the removal of a clause in the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2008, which seeks to have their employment terminated along with that of the 22 Commissioners.

The employees who meet on Monday to strategies before the Bill goes to Parliament said they had written to the Central Police Station boss notifying him of their planned protest.

Speaking on behalf of the staff, Joan Mudindi said the street demonstrations would be followed by a hunger strike.

“We are still lobbying for the removal of the clause affecting ECK staff and we have been able to talk to a number of Members of Parliament who support our position,” Ms Mudindi said after the meeting.

She said they were not opposed to reforms within the electoral body but the reforms did not mean the sacking of all staff.

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The Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2008, was published last week and if passed by Parliament will see ECK disbanded and replaced with an Interim Independent Electoral Commission.

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