NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 14 – Commissioners at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) were at pains to justify their duties and responsibilities when they appeared before a parliamentary committee on Monday.
The nine commissioners who were set to appear before the Public Accounts Committee individually could not convince the members that they deserved to be employed on a full time basis as it appeared their roles seemed to clash with those being carried out by regional election coordinators based in the various constituencies.
“What do the commissioners do on a day-to-day basis?” asked Kitutu Masaba MP Timothy Bosire.
Commissioner Albert Bwire who was first on the ‘chopping board’ said their roles were outlined in the Constitution and besides that they were each in charge of coordinating election activities within the former provinces.
When questioned over what specific duties they carried out, Bwire said they ensured issues of boundaries, voter education and voter registration went on uninterrupted.
“I want to confirm that we have enough work on our hands on a day-to-day basis and being full time commissioners is the right decision; that I can confirm,” he asserted.
The MPs had taken issue with the fact that the lack of a defined role for the commissioners had caused them to interfere with the operations of the electoral body’s secretariat citing cases of alleged ‘tenderpreneurship’ and micromanagement of staff.
Commissioner Muthoni Wangai who appeared next also defended commissioners who have been accused of sitting idle in their offices saying their hands were full.
In June, National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi stirred the debate when he recommended the reduction the commissioners from the current nine to three.
Muturi said the Constitution required independent commissions to have a minimum of three commissioners, making the additional six serving at the IEBC unnecessary.
“We have nine commissioners waking up every day pretending to go to work, which work? Which policy is this you are working on every day… when will it be implemented? “We don’t need more than three; we need to do away with the rest,” posed the Speaker.
The commissioners were also tasked with responding to queries contained in a special audit report which the committee is probing.
Among the issues were questions over the tendering and procurement process of the Biometric Voter Registration kits. They refuted the allegations that they interfered with the procurement process of electronic devices used in the last election.
Bwire who chaired the Finance and Procurement sub-committee in 2012-2013 said he did not participate in the procurement of BVR kits as his involvement was limited to reviewing the procurement plan.
“I was not involved in the procurement process. After we approved the procurement plan that was it. I did not interfere as the chairman of the procurement committee,” he said.
He however stated that at some time when they noted that process was taking longer than it should, they (Commissioners) wrote to the then CEO James Oswago requesting him to expedite the procurement process since time was running out.
Bwire turned the heat on Oswago whom he accused of sidestepping them in decision making.
He said they were alarmed that even before the options to be considered were brought up for discussion the management had gone ahead to terminate he tender the CEO had on his own will gone ahead the process.
“We learnt of the cancellation of the tender award from 411 (breaking news alerts run by Capital FM). It was terminated by the CEO,” Bwire explained.
“He should have had the courtesy of consulting us, I was in the office working and I just got the message. The CEO has powers but courtesy demands that you at least inform the tender committee.”
Oswago during his appearance before the same committee dismissed the Auditor General’s special report which accused him mismanaging the procurement of electronic voter kits.
He said the report was inaccurate and unfair to him as he was not involved in the procurement.
Other commissioners together with the chairman will appear before the committee on Tuesday.
The commission is also expected to resume voter registration exercise across the country after the process had stalled.
Commissioner Wangai said due to shortage in funding, they had been forced to halt the process but were keen on ensuring by 2017 more Kenyans had registered saying they had since learnt from the mistakes of the last election.