NAIROBI, Kenya, May 20 – The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was on Tuesday at pains to explain to a parliamentary committee why it had been conducting ‘low-key’ nationwide voter registration for the last one month.
This emerged as IEBC officials were meeting the House team on Justice and Legal Affairs to request for allocation of more funds in the 2014/15 budget.
IEBC Acting CEO Betty Sungura-Nyabuto told the Committee led by Ainabkoi MP Samuel Chepkonga that the exercise has been running since April 15 and will close on June 30.
“The continuous voter registration which is part of our mandate is ongoing. We didn’t sensationalise this whole exercise and we tried as much as possible to use these dismal funds to sensitise members of the public who did not register prior to the General Election to now come and register,” said the IEBC official.
Commission Vice-Chairman Lilian Mahiri-Zaja explained that the Commission took the decision after realising that the Sh18 million which had been left after the 2013 poll was not sufficient to roll out the exercise to the ward level as well as place advertisements in the media.
This prompted protests from Chepkonga, Ruaraka MP Tom Kajwang, Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma and Githunguri MP Njoroge Baiya who questioned the IEBC’s decision to handle the registration in a such a manner, with some MPs offering to allow them to address a press conference at Parliament’s Media Centre (Only MPs can address the media within Parliament’s precincts) to announce to the general public the voter registration exercise.
The committee members also encouraged Mahiri-Zaja to take advantage of the MPs’ reach to spread the word.
“I don’t understand why you decided to conduct the exercise in such a low key or rather secretive manner,” Chepkonga said; “If you would have let us know, we would have announced at every baraza that we addressed over the weekend.”
Kajwang’ said he was concerned that the secretive nature in which the Commission had chosen to conduct the exercise was bound to attract suspicion.
CORD members have always held the view that IEBC mishandled the 2013 poll which cost their presidential candidate, Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the presidency.
“Let me advise you… you should not do things that will expose you to public suspicion about your activities especially when public confidence on your conduct is not at its optimum,” said the Ruaraka MP.
Kaluma and Baiya on their part questioned the IEBC’s assertion that they lacked funds to publicise the exercise.
Kaluma faulted the electoral agency officials, saying the Sh18million left from the 2013 exercise could have been used to ensure the public was informed of the process.
“If the Commission is using their internal staff to carry out this exercise, I see no reason why they should claim that Sh18 million is not enough. Because these staffers that they are using are already on their payroll and they are using the Commission’s premises for registration. Where is the added cost?” asked the Homa Bay legislator.
In responding to Kajwang’s protests that his constituency had been left out of the exercise, the IEBC Vice-Chairperson explained that the law does not allow the Commission to conduct voter registration in constituencies or regions where there are pending electoral petitions.
Nairobi and Migori Counties have electoral appeals pending at the Supreme Court after their respective Governors were removed from office by the Court of Appeal.
The exercise is also suspended in Nyando, Mathare, Bonchari constituencies which are also awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court.
The IEBC appeared before the committee to request for Sh84 million more for voter registration and Sh196 million for a media campaign on voter sensitisation.
The House team shot down the IEBC’s request for Sh21.5b to purchase the Commission headquarters and advised them to consult the national government to assign them one of the government buildings left idle following the merger some ministries.
Mahiri-Zaja said they had earmarked Nyati House (which housed the National Intelligence Service) or the Kenya Railway Corporation Headquarters building as some of the best suited buildings to house the Commission’s 300 staff.