By Machel Waikenda
It is no longer about whether Kenya will be holding a referendum in the coming months but when. The launch of the BBI report set the stage and the country is focused on the upcoming referendum.
Last week, an IEBC commissioner went before a parliamentary committee and declared that the commission will need Sh14 billion to conduct the proposed referendum. The declaration drew strong reactions from Kenyans as many know and believe the country should not be spending such kind of money.
IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati later issued a statement saying the cost per voter is actually cheaper than the 2010 referendum and the 2017 election. While this is mathematically correct, there is still no justification on why the IEBC cannot work to ensure the cost of elections in Kenya is not astronomical.
Currently, the commission has no CEO and it has been plagued with infighting and a lack of clear structures. In fact, without a CEO, the commission is set to make decisions such as those that we are seeing them make on the upcoming referendum.
Since the 2017 elections, the IEBC has been more of a circus than an electoral agency, with blunders all through. It is not lost to us that three commissioners quit just after the last elections, saying they had no confidence in the chairman — who unfortunately has remained three years later.
The commission has even abandoned the boundaries review and not even dared to tell Kenyans on the way forward despite the pandemic. Recently, the Commission issued a statement asking politicians in the Msambweni by-elections to campaign on the mainstream media and social media.
It is evident that some of the decisions made by Chebukati and team have been off the mark and not aimed at the general interest of Kenyans. The IEBC, as currently constituted, has proven to be more of a liability than an asset to Kenya’s democracy.
The chest-thumping and bravado showcased by the IEBC chairman and commissioners must end. Is this the team that you will comfortably entrust with the referendum and the next election? Why would a referendum cost that much?
Keeping the IEBC in place and ignoring the mistakes they have made is like playing Russian roulette with the fate of the nation. Since late 2017 and early 2018, we have known that IEBC is in shambles but we have done nothing to correct the situation.
After the referendum, the next election is not far and the IEBC should be putting in place systems for it. This can’t happen with the issues facing it. Therefore, the time to reform the IEBC, including putting in place new commissioners who can build trust with the public, is now.
IEBC is too important to be left to a few individuals inside the Commission to continue going at each other as we have witnessed. We must challenge ourselves to deal with this matter once and for all.
Last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (Amendment) Bill No. 3 of 2019. The amended IEBC law establishes a selection panel to oversee the filling up of vacant positions at the Commission as well as future appointments to the electoral agency.
The new law also sets the criteria for the selection of IEBC Commissioners and outlines the qualifications of members of the selection panel. It is time we moved with speed and appointed new commissioners.
It is time to disband the IEBC, elect a competent and fresh team to take over the mantle, and measure their competency with how they will conduct the referendum.
As it stands, how will the current IEBC conduct a referendum that will affect their jobs immediately after? Will they be impartial? This is highly unlikely and thus the need to remove them from office now.
The writer is a political and communications consultant @MachelWaikenda)