The country’s electoral agency has opened up about the challenges it’s facing as the clock ticks towards 2022 polls, warning that electronic results transmission could again fail.
The IEBC spoke as it emerged that the Treasury has issued a controversial circular to all government agencies, including the commission, centralising procurement of ICT in the Executive under the Ministry of ICT.
In an exclusive interview with the Star on Tuesday, the commission deplored inadequate funding by the Exchequer, which they said had grounded most of their activities.
The Sh3.8 billion Integrated Elections Management System (KIEMS) procured just months to the August 2017 polls risks becoming obsolete for lack of regular maintenance and servicing.
For the first time, Commissioner Abdi Yakub Guliye warned that the challenges the IEBC encountered in results transmission during the 2017 polls could recur in 2022.
Guliye said many parts of Kenya are still not covered by a 3G network, making it practically impossible to transmit results from those regions.
In 2017, the IEBC was unable to transmit results from at least 10,000 polling stations that were not covered by a 3G network.
This was part of the reason the Supreme Court nullified the presidential result as the law requires the commission to use technology to transmit the results.
“So, the challenge we had in 2017 will most likely be there in 2022. As a country, what we should be doing now is to improve network coverage particularly in remote areas,” Guliye said.
In 2017, the country had 40,883 polling stations with a maximum of 700 voters per polling station
However, IEBC anticipates that the number of polling stations will hit over 50,000 in 2022 with the mass voter registration expected before the polls.
“This means the number of polling stations that will be outside the 3G network areas would probably increase,”Guliye said.
The law requires the IEBC us to use technology to transmit presidential results from the polling stations to the National Tallying Centre.
Results for other elective positions are either sent to the County Tallying Centre or to the Constituency Tallying Centre.
Guliye revealed the IEBC had written to the Communication Authority and the Ministry of ICT as the matter remained a huge concern to the commission.
The commission also has reached out to Parliament and the Attorney General.
“We have explained the challenges. And that is all we can do. As I said, this is not an IEBC activity alone. It requires other players to help,” Guliye stated.
“It might be expensive, but when you establish a base station in these remote areas it’s not just for elections, there is a multiplier effect. Sometimes, as a government, we may want to take the cost from the telcom service providers by providing the station and then invite them to put up their telecommunication masts.”
Guliye said in North Eastern the problem has been compounded by al Shabaab terrorists who have been been consistently destroying masts.
He said the alternative is the acquisition of satellite technology, which requires a huge budget.
It has also emerged that the government has come up with a new directive making it mandatory that all ICT equipment and services are procured through the ministry.
Guliye said the directive will cause operational inefficiencies and put the independence of the IEBC in doubt.
“I believe the Treasury circular was informed by a Cabinet decision. Whereas it’s a good move to centralise the procurement of ICT for the wider Public Service, as a commission, we see this as a challenge because we live in a country of suspicion and mistrust,” Guliye stated.
“If somebody else is going to procure for us, what does that say about the independence of the commission? What does it say about the electoral process itself in terms of the legitimacy, bearing in mind that the Ministry of ICT is part of the Executive of the day, which probably will have an interest in the elections?” he asked.
Guliye revealed the IEBC has requested to be exempted from the new directive.
The commissioner also revealed the the Kiems kits are not regularly serviced and their licenses paid for as required, which may necessitate the acquisition of new technology in 2022.
“So, as we speak, our equipment are scattered across the 290 constituencies. Many of them have not been serviced because we don’t have money to service them. Again, we are using a number of softwares and hardwares that are licensed, for which we have to pay annual maintenance fees. We have not been paying,” he said.
The commission has no money for voter education as well as continuous registration of voters.
Guliye said it is less acrimonious to register voters early enough before the polls.
“It’s unfortunate that we are not getting such support because what this means is that before an election, we get a lump sum of money to do a voter registration. That particular period, the whole thing gets politicizsed. It gets ethnicised, politicians are competing and voters transferred left right centre,” e said.