January 23rd 2018

Opinion / Commentaries

Raila justified to reject IEBC's awarding of ballot tender to Al Ghurair

I can attest that Mr Odinga has, in this country, consistently lifted the lid over some serious issues of national significance. No politician of the living generation I know can screw up such amount of courage that could shake the political foundations of the powers-that-be.

By Athanas Kipchumbaakipchumba@kenyafreepress.comWednesday, 14 Jun 2017 18:40 EAT

President Uhuru Kenyatta meets the officials of Al Ghurair Printing & Publishing, led by their Chairman Majid Saif Al Ghurair and the Chamber's President and CEO Hamad Buamin.

Where there’s smoke, believe you me, there’s fire. Kenya’s political storm petrel, who is the NASA presidential flag bearer, Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga, has flatly turned down the electoral agency’s re-awarding of the lucrative ballot printing tender to Dubai-based printing and publishing company, Al-Ghurair. Fascinating?

Well, on Wednesday, the electoral agency announced the tenders for the supply and delivery of ballot papers, elections result declaration forms and poll registers – all of which are the most important materials for the forthcoming general election.

Yes, in the year 2013, the IEBC’s top commissioners led by the then chairman Ahmed Isaak Hassan used the highly profitable printing deals to demand for kickbacks, amidst fertile allegations that Smith & Ouzman company printed excess ballot papers which were claimed by the opposition politicians to have been used to rig President Kenyatta into power.

In the wake of the corruption allegations linking the officials of the UK-based printing firm, Smith & Ouzman Company, with the top IEBC’S commissioners, the UK’s anti-graft authorities immediately swooped into investigations after which two directors of the firm in question were arraigned in court, and later found guilty of the corruption charges leveled against them. They are now cooling their heels behind bars.

What of our own commissioners who were adversely mentioned in the notorious scandal? They’ve gone scot-free. Oh, sorry! ‘This is Kenya’, you know. I'm cock-sure that had the Supreme Court not rejected CORD’s 900-page evidence, the then top IEBC commissioners who were massively embroiled in the infamous ‘Chicken gate’ scandal would have been brought to the limelight fully.

Regardless, Mr Odinga learned a lesson or two following the political developments of the last general election. Once bitten, they say, twice shy. This popular maxim keeps on ringing in the mind of the NASA supremo. He can’t, at this ‘fragile’ moment, leave anything to chance. He will make sure that he pulls out all stops to ensure his votes are not stolen!

Mr Odinga has promised his supporters in many occasions that he “will jealously protect the vote” in what could be described as an attempt to allay consternations over vote-rigging that is believed to have been the key motivating factor behind voters’ apathy. Especially in the opposition’s vote bank. Baba, as they popularly call the former premier with a pinch of humour, has vowed to keep his eyes peeled.

A talk of the infamous Chikengate scandal rekindles chilling memories of electoral malpractices, whose principal victim in the Kenya’s national politics is none other than the former prime minister. And this underscores why Mr Odinga is extra careful and hyper cautious this time around.

Question is, does the NASA candidate’s sensational statements - made recently at an international conference on election preparedness that Al Ghurair has deep and longstanding connections with the top Jubilee politicians - warrant the cancellation of the tender on focus?

Remember in the past, the High Court of Kenya, through Justice George Odunga, issued an order that saw the cancellation of the IEBC’s Sh2.5 billion ballot paper tender awarded to the Dubai firm. According to the order, the tender was quashed on the grounds that it failed to comply with the amended Election Laws (Amendment) Act 2016.

The court’s ruling was in consonance with the opposition’s prayers. The opposition coalition had earlier before the ruling petitioned the court that in awarding the tender, the electoral commission ought to have taken into proper consideration the current legislative framework. Interestingly still, even the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board later accused IEBC of blatantly contravening the law, after it awarded the firm a fresh tender without subjecting it to competition.

Yes, things appear to be getting thicker by day, at the commission. One would be tempted to think that Mr Odinga has insatiable penchant for complains. Which in my opinion, amounts to shirking away the harsh truths. I can attest that Mr Odinga has, in this country, consistently lifted the lid over some serious issues of national significance. No politician of the living generation I know can screw up such amount of courage that could shake the political foundations of the powers-that-be. This is beyond arguments.

In his recent remarks, the political behemoth warned that the involvement of Al Ghurair tremendously compromises the credibility of August elections and demanded IEBC reconsider the tendering decision for the sake of Kenya. Just last week, the chairman of the IEBC Mr Wafula Chebukati announced that the commission would go for direct procurement after consultation with stakeholders. Mr Odinga, however, denied that the opposition was consulted.

According to The Star newspaper, Al Ghurair is said to have two powerful local partners, one of whom is the uncle of a prominent Jubilee chieftain, and the other is close associate of the former CS who was swept away in the previous corruption cleansing after the president tabled a list of shame in parliament in March 2015. He’s said to sit in a board of a luxury hotel largely owned by the former CS. This actually is a major source of concern. Worrisome, to say the least.

I suppose these damning revelations of Jubilee’s connection with what prompted President Kenyatta to say that, whoever will be defeated, whether he or Mr Odinga "must be ready to concede defeat." Isn’t it very telling? This raises more questions than answers as to the sincerity of the Jubilee leader’s curious statement.

Consider this. Mr Odinga has gone on record saying that the owners of Al Ghurair hosted Jubilee senior officials in Dubai three years down the line when they sealed the deal to supply the 120 million ballot papers. Really? Then we shouldn’t doubt why the firm must be suffocated of the tender. Could this be the reason why UhuRuto is swelling with confidence that they will win the next election in the first round?

So, the close association of Jubilee leader with the top directors of the Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing company highlights why the opposition leadership must vehemently reject the IEBC’s attempt or plot to award it with the tender.

It would be very wise of Mr Odinga and the entire NASA brigade of the opposition political wing to keep their eyes skinned.

Kipchumba is a staff writer/columnist at the Kenya Free Press

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