Mr Ezra Chiloba, the sacked chief executive officer of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, on Thursday alleged massive meddling in the procurement of goods and services by commissioners ahead of last year’s General Election, laying bare the nasty boardroom wars that have characterised the organisation in the past one year.
Appearing before the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), chaired by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, Mr Chiloba accused commissioners, and especially chairman Wafula Chebukati, of intellectual dishonesty, saying they peddled undue influence in the procurement of election materials, including the Sh2.5 billion tender for the printing of ballot papers that was eventually awarded by the courts.
Mr Chiloba said that Mr Chebukati wanted Reflon, a South African company, given the tender. However, the courts ruled that it be awarded to Dubai-based Al-Ghurair. “The chairman introduced me to this company and, two days later, he sent me a memo asking me how far I had gone. The decision of the court settled the matter. The chairman has integrity issues,” the former CEO said.
Mr Chebukati also awarded his law firm, Cootow and Associates, contracts worth millions of shillings to represent the agency in the 2017 election petitions across the country, Mr Chiloba said. “These contracts were a clear case of conflict of interest, but when I confronted him, he said that he had resigned from the firm before joining the commission, thus there was no problem.”
The commissioners also voted to overturn a decision by the secretariat to award a Sh3.8 billion tender for the supply of Kenya Integrated Election Management System (Kiems) kits to Gemalto SA, a French firm. Mr Chebukati and three commissioners who have since resigned from the commission — Ms Connie Maina (vice-chairperson), Ms Roselyn Akombe and Ms Margaret Mwachanya — voted in favour of OT-Morpho, another French firm, for the supply of the Kiems. The others — Mr Paul Kurgat, Mr Abdi Guliye and Mr Boya Molu — opposed and were in favour of another firm, Smartmatic, claimed Mr Chiloba.
If the allegations are proved to be true, they could force the commission to defend itself against accusations of conflict of interest. “I question the integrity and capabilities of the commissioners,” Mr Chiloba said. “Given my age, they would refer to me as a young man, notwithstanding the fact that I was the commission secretary. I found it very demeaning.” Mr Chiloba’s statements contradict what Mr Chebukati told PAC when he appeared before it on Monday and Tuesday. The chairman told MPs that Mr Chiloba never briefed the commission on the more than 100 procurements made between June last year and the election date of August 8, 2017.
The latest report by Auditor-General Edward Ouko shows that the contracts awarded during that period were inflated or awarded irregularly, and that the commission cannot account for over Sh9 billion used in the polls. “My greatest lesson has been the weight that comes with leadership in an institution which is a constant political bull’s eye,” Mr Chiloba said. “The tenacity of individuals appointed to these offices is what ultimately defines the institution.”
He told the MPs that Mr Chebukati called him seven times to discuss procurement matters on the phone, and that the commission would meet in his absence and agree on matters that he would later be told to approve. “I signed those minutes (of meetings held in my absence) in trust of the organisation, until I discovered that I was being thrown under the bus. A meeting without a CEO and notice is not a valid meeting,” Mr Chiloba said.
The IEBC Act provides that a valid meeting must constitute the commissioners and the CEO. These accusations and counter-accusations are the product of a nasty war of words and a clash of egos that have left the image of the IEBC in tatters. They also appear to lend credence to a Supreme Court ruling that annulled the first round of presidential elections last year on grounds that IEBC did not follow the law.
Mr Chebukati had claimed that the commissioners were never briefed on the procurement process, and that at some point Mr Chiloba had told commissioners that procurement is not part of their mandate after they sought information on election preparedness. However, Mr Chiloba yesterday said that the commissioners fixed him and engineered his removal from office through an internal audit of the procurement of election materials.
He claimed that he was never given a chance to respond to the queries that were later converted into accusations and used as smear campaign fodder to edge him out. “The role of commissioners and that of management on procurement issues was a source of never-ending tensions and confusion within the organisation,” he said. “With the new commissioners, it was difficult to draw the line between their role and that of the secretariat, leading to violation of the principle of segregation of roles.”
He added: “Today, it is very easy for some of the commissioners to argue that, according to the Public Financial Management Act, the CEO is accountable. While that is true, it is important that the same commissioners are held to account for what I consider undue interference in the procurement process.” To show that he was fully in charge, the sacked CEO told the MPs Mr Chebukati vowed that the commissioners will not be “flower girls” in the operations and decisions of the commission during a meeting in Naivasha. “They should be bold enough and accept the decisions they made because their language keeps on changing from not being flower girls to being cautious,” he said.