Members of the National Assembly in Kenya on Wednesday voted to block French Technology firm IDEMIA Securities limited from doing business in the country for at least 10 years.
They cited a violation of the Companies Act.
MPs amended the report of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the audited accounts of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and voted to have the firm held accountable for irregular payments it received in the 2017 General Election.
Curiously, IDEMIA has changed names twice during the five years it has had lucrative deals in the country.
In 2013, the firm supplied the multibillion-shilling Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits as Safran Morpho, before changing to OT-Morpho in the 2017 elections.
The company has also put in a bid for the multibillion-shilling Kenyan population census, due in August this year.
In its findings, the PAC, chaired by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, found the French firm to have operated in the country illegally as it was not registered when it went into business with the government, contrary to the Companies Act.
However, its findings and observations appeared to be inconsistent with the recommendations as the committee only sanctioned the IEBC but left IDEMIA untouched.
This did not go down well with Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma, who started the process to draft the amendments.
“The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) must investigate IDEMIA and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) should institute appropriate criminal action in line with the Companies Act for doing business with IEBC without being registered locally as required by law,” said Mr Kaluma.
According to the Companies Act, a foreign company should not do business in the country before it is registered by the Registrar of Companies. And local shareholding must be at least 30 per cent.
The companies law further provides that a foreign company should have at least a representative in the country.
But the management of IDEMIA admitted to the House team that the firm did not have a local representative after the committee served the head office in France.
IDEMIA has, since working with IEBC, been contracted to provide technology services for the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS), popularly known as Huduma Namba, which was launched on April 3, 2019 by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The NIIMS project was awarded at Ksh6 billion, and it seeks to collate personal data from Kenyans and foreigners in the country under one system by capturing individual biometrics. The NIIMS project is the platform on which the Huduma Namba rests.
Government spokesman Eric Kiraithe said the Huduma Namba listing drive will, in the meantime, continue despite Parliament’s move as the registration “is a national exercise with clear objectives”.
He added that the government is still studying the decision by Parliament.
“It is premature to give a comment before seeing the actual details of what the MPs passed,” Mr Kiraithe said, warning that the government risks paying huge damages if it terminates ongoing contracts.
On Wednesday, National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale said the company must be dealt with if the country is to hold fair and credible elections.
He also faulted its frequent name changing, saying that it looked suspicious.
“This company was invited by PAC but failed to honour the invitations until it was compelled to do so. We must deal with it if we want to have free and fair elections in 2022. Companies that do business in Kenya must be ready to follow our laws, otherwise they will get into corruption and unethical behaviour, and they don’t employ our people. They must do business ethically, the same way they do in France,” he said.
Nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi wondered why the company was getting preferential treatment to do business in the country.
“The frequent change of name raises credibility issues,” Mr Osotsi said. “This is the same company that claimed that servers could not be accessed. It interfered with the transmission of election results. It did funny things on the server and if a report were to be produced now, we would not be talking about this company as we are doing,” he added.