Kenya's electoral agency has said it will not cancel the $24.2 million (Ksh2.5bn) ballot paper printing contract awarded to a Dubai firm.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) officials explained that the deal had already been signed and that it was way behind its electoral cycle schedule.
IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati, who addressed the media minutes after meeting eight presidential candidates and their representatives, suggested the deal to print 120 million ballot papers for the high-stakes August 8 polls was a done deal.
“If you look at the timelines we have, actually today we should be doing the artwork for the ballot. So, we do not have time to go into procurement of the ballot tender again,” said Mr Chebukati at the Hotel Intercontinental on Thursday.
Influencing the tender
Mr Chebukati insisted that his office will fire any commission staff accused of influencing the tender, which was awarded to Dubai-based Al-Ghurair.
“If any member of our staff has been involved in corruption or has been involved in any inducement, we will take action. As it stands now, they are just mere allegations,” he said.
Mr Chebukati was speaking minutes after three presidential candidates or their representatives suggested that there was “general consensus” to cancel the tender.
“There was general consensus among the presidential candidates during our meeting that the IEBC cancels the tender to Al-Ghurair, who media reports suggest has links with the highest office in the land, and award it to a firm not associated with any of the political formations,” said Thirdway Alliance presidential candidate Ekuru Aukot.
Dr Aukot proposed that the IEBC use the United Nations to print the ballots, a body he said will be above the individual political interests.
He called for the disqualification of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his main challenger Raila Odinga from the race over what he said were attempts to influence the tender.
“Jubilee has been accused of improper contact with Al-Ghurair. It has not denied. It has gone ahead to accuse Nasa of trying to pitch another firm. I say disqualify both these people because of the likelihood of bias that they have already admitted,” said Dr Aukot.
Jubilee Secretary-General Raphael Tuju, who represented President Kenyatta in the meeting, accused the Raila Odinga-led Nasa of arm-twisting the IEBC after what he said was failure by South Africa-based Paarl Media to get the tender.
“We know that representatives of the firm met the Nasa candidate five times,” he said, adding that even then, the party did not mind the tender being awarded to the firm.
“We have said that give the tender to any firm. For us it is not the ballot papers that will vote, it is the people of Kenya.”
Mr Tuju also disputed claims that President Kenyatta had met at State House with Mr Al-Ghurair, the head of the firm that won the $24.2 million tender.
Shares a name
“The man the President met just shares a name with Al-Ghurair, the head of the firm that won the ballot paper tender.
"They just share a name and we have done due diligence that the man the President met was an Al-Ghurair that deals with cement, not the one of the printing firm,” said Mr Tuju.
Mr Odinga’s lawyer, Paul Mwangi, and ODM Rarieda parliamentary aspirant Otiende Amollo, who represented the Nasa team, expressed disappointment after the IEBC meeting.
“We have raised serious allegations against staff of the IEBC, which we expected the commission to address. But what did we get? There were no questions asked to them, no reference to our allegations and the very people we talked about were running the meeting,” said Mr Mwangi.
Free and fair
The Nasa team had named IEBC Chief Executive Ezra Chiloba and Elections and Voter Registration Director Immaculate Kasait as those who had been invited to State House, and who the Mr Odinga team claims met the Al-Ghurair team.
Dr Amollo argued: “We want the tender given to a firm that has no association with anyone in the race.”
Independent presidential candidate Michael Wainaina said: “We want the IEBC to be an independent body that does not respond to Nasa and Jubilee, two political formations that have shown that they are not interested in free and fair elections.”