September 25th 2017

Top Stories / National

Following predecessor's footsteps, Chebukati turns heat on Raila in face of new IEBC scandal

In 2013, top IEBC officials received kickbacks for the award of balloting printing tenders to Smith & Ouzman, a British printing firm, a scandal that was later exposed by UK authorities and the implicated directors jailed for corruption offences.

By Julliet Mwihakijmwihaki@kenyafreepress.comWednesday, 14 Jun 2017 14:46 EAT

President Kenyatta with IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati and other commissioners at State House, Nairobi, in a past photo.

The Independent Electoral Commission Board faces a major credibility test with only 54 days remaining to the general elections after it emerged that the commission has awarded an all-important ballot printing tender to a company introduced to its officials by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The revelations published by The Star newspaper this morning threw IEBC into a spin, with the commission's chairman Wafula Chebukati coming out to defend their selection of the firm, Al Ghurair Printing & Publishing of Dubai, but without even attempting to address concerns about the firm's relationship with top government officials.

The opposition NASA alliance led by Raila Odinga also continued its case against the company, demanding that IEBC CEO Ezra Chiloba who has reportedly ensured that the Dubai firm got the tender in three different procurement processes, be investigated for corruption. The opposition also named close relatives of President Kenyatta's as being the company's local agents.

Mr Chiloba has been the CEO under whose watch the company was awarded the Sh2.5 billion tender twice, and on both ocassions the contract was annuled. IEBC awarded Al Ghurair the tender for the third time last week after the High Court and the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board had blocked previous contracts to the firm on the basis IEBC had subverted the law governing public procurement. 

The Star revealed today that Dubai-based businessman Aziz al Ghurair, the founder of Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing, had close links to President Kenyatta and other Jubilee Party leaders who are the firm's local business representatives. According to information pieced by The Star and verified by the Kenya Free Press, President Kenyatta has met Mr Ghurair in different situations in Dubai and Nairobi.

During the two meetings, the president is alleged to have promised the business mogul that he would facilitate the award of the tender by IEBC, which is an independent commission. The President first met Mr Ghurair in Dubai in February 2016, and the two met again in Nairobi in October, during which the president is alleged to have introduced the company to IEBC CEO Chiloba.

Mr Chiloba has declined to discuss the President’s relationship with the company since questions emerged over the suspicious manner the IEBC had awarded one company a tender three times, apparently under the cloud of suspicion and against stern rulings by relevant authorities about the irregularity of previous awards.

In the first instance the High Court nullified the tender on the basis that the public would not get value for money since the company was not the lowest evaluated bidder after a competitive tender. After that, the IEBC still awarded the tender to Ghurair under restricted tendering, arguing that time was running out for a new round of competitive procurement. The decision was overruled by the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board, as it violated the law.

Finally, last week IEBC again awarded the tender to the same company, raising questions about the nature of its relationship with the firm. At his press conference today, the IEBC chairman read a statement asserting the commission's determination to conduct a credible general election but which did not address the president's meeting with the firm's bosses in Nairobi and Dubai and why the firm was being treated with preference.

His statement deried Mr Odinga, the opposition leader, without naming him, asserting that critics of the tender were promoting "a new narrative around the procurement of ballot papers that puts the electoral process in jeopardy. This narrative is dangerously derailing us from fulfilling our obligation as a country to hold the General (Election) on 8 August 2017."

The chairman praised the company's qualifications for the job, describing in detail its suitability and the excellent facilities it had, none of which was in contention. Al Ghurair is a top Asian printing firm and has some of the best facilities, but what was at issue which the chairman completely avoided was the company's relationship with President Kenyatta and the Jubilee Party.

Mr Chebukati however did not explain whether Al Ghurair Printing & Publishing was the only company the IEBC knew which had "modern printing equipment". But he probably gave a little insight into the nature of IEBC's relationship with the firm by indicating that Al Ghurair had committed some of its equipment specifically for Kenyan ballot printing. How it could do so without the benefit of a tender was subject to speculation. 

The evolving scandal has revived concerns that IEBC despite change of its commissioners early this year is still permeated by corruption and infiltration by top government officials. Mr Odinga said the controversial tender will only compromise the credibility of the August elections and demanded for reconsideration by the IEBC over this matter.

In 2013, top IEBC officials received kickbacks for the award of balloting printing tenders to Smith & Ouzman, a British printing firm, a scandal that was later exposed by UK authorities and the implicated directors jailed for corruption offences. However, the top IEBC officials who received the bribes are yet to be prosecuted in Kenya, although they were removed from office following weeks of opposition pressure including street protests.

The debate between Mr Odinga and the IEBC chairman fit into a familiar pattern where the commission downplays the opposition's fears whenever it is faced with credibility questions. By describing Mr Odinga's concerns as part of "a new narrative", the chairman linked himself to his predecessor Issack Hassan who always derided the opposition.

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