Dispute over ballot printing tender threatens Kenyan polls

Saturday June 17 2017

Nasa co-principal Musalia Mudavadi.

Nasa co-principal Musalia Mudavadi addresses a press conference on June 15, 2017 where he claimed the ruling Jubilee Party was plotting to rig the elections. NMG PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO 

By FRED OLUOCH

Controversy over a tender award to a Dubai-based firm to print the ballot papers for the August elections in Kenya raged on after the opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) claimed the firm could be used to manipulate the poll outcome by printing extra ballots.

The row, which has already been the subject of a court case, was re-ignited last week when Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga claimed the firm, Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company Ltd, had links with the ruling Jubilee’s leadership.

The next day, Nasa co-principal Musalia Mudavadi challenged President Uhuru Kenyatta to “come clean on his family’s links with the Dubai firm and state his interests in the contract that the firm was awarded.”

Jubilee came out fighting, and accused Mr Odinga of having interests in South African-based firm that initially queried the award of the $25 million (Ksh2.5 billion).

Both Jubilee and the Dubai-based firm dismissed as false the claims linking the President’s family to the firm and challenged the opposition leaders to prove their allegations.

The opposition said it was weighing its options after its demand for cancellation of the award and a fresh tendering process was rejected by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) on account of time.

Officials of Nasa told The EastAfrican that it was up to the president to dispute their claims: “Majid Saif Al Ghurair is part of the Ghurair brothers who run a conglomerate of companies with several divisions, but nobody is asking President Kenyatta whether he met him in Dubai in October last year. Again, nobody is asking IEBC chief executive Ezra Chiloba whether or not he was called to State House to be introduced to top officials of the Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company Ltd,” said Paul Mwangi, Mr Odinga’s lawyer.

Zambia case

The tussle over the printing of ballot papers closely mirrors the happenings in Zambia a year ago.

At the centre of the controversy was Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Llc.

The controversy in Kenya must have brought a sense of déjà vu to the heads of Al Ghurair. This time last year, Zambia’s opposition questioned why the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) awarded Al Ghurair the contract over the South Africa’s Ren-Form Printing Company which, until then, had been printing ballot papers for the country.

Following a challenge by Ren-Form, the Zambia Public Procurement Authority cancelled the tender and ordered it to be re-advertised, but Al Ghurair won it again.

Smelt a rat

Zambia’s electoral commission said the firm met its specifications on security features on the ballot papers, but the opposition smelt a rat.

Following opposition protests, officers from the Zambian electoral body offered to sponsor one agent from each presidential candidate to witness the printing of the ballot papers to allay any suspicions.

In the wake of Nasa’s protests against IEBC’s move to award the contract to Al Ghurair, the IEBC chief executive Ezra Chiloba and the commission’s chairman Wafula Chebukati have made a similar offer to Nasa. 

As it was the case in Zambia, the firm that initially challenged the awarding of the contract to Al Ghurair by the IEBC is South Africa’s Paarl Media (Pty) Company.

Last October, Paarl successfully petitioned the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board to cancel IEBC’s contract to Al Ghurair. Though the latter lost its appeal in April, it still got the contract through restricted tendering, which Nasa has now called into question.

The Zambian opposition accused Al Ghurair of working closely with the government of President Edgar Lungu to rig the elections. They claimed that prior to the polls, President Lungu had travelled to Saudi Arabia, where he met Al Ghurair officials.

President Lungu narrowly defeated the opposition candidate Hakainde Hichilema in the elections last year.

In Kenya and other African countries, the supply of election materials is usually an affair riddled with competing interests.

— Additional reporting by Kipchumba Some