Ex-IEBC officials now holding key poll levers

Chiloba, three ex-IEBC colleagues head agencies key to 2022 polls

The appointment of Mr Ezra Chiloba as director-general of the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) means four former electoral officials now head institutions that are critical to the 2022 elections.

The former CEO of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) will effectively be tasked with ensuring all the 53,000 polling stations are connected to 3G/4G network and can faultlessly transmit their results in the August 2022 General Election.

Ms Immaculate Kassait, who was in November last year sworn in as the Data Commissioner, Ms Anne Nderitu, who was in September named Kenya’s first substantive Registrar of Political Parties and Mr James Buyekane Muhati, who was in March 2020 named Huduma Kenya chief executive officer, previously served under Mr Chiloba at the IEBC.

Ms Kassait was Director, Voter Education and Partnerships at the IEBC since 2019. She had previously served as Director, Voter Registration and Electoral Operations at the electoral agency since 2010.

Mr Muhati, on the other hand, was the ICT director, while Ms Nderitu headed Electoral Training at the IEBC before her current appointment – first in an acting capacity – on August 15, 2018.

Key positions

At a time when Kenya’s elections are increasingly becoming technology and data-driven, Mr Chiloba, Ms Kassait, Ms Nderitu and Mr Muhati now hold positions that will determine the success or failure of the poll.

“The question we need to ask ourselves is: who are these people? Where are they coming from? The fact that we have the entire infrastructure that is central to the election being run by people who were part of the IEBC, which was indicted by the Supreme Court in 2017, raises fundamental questions on their role. What is even worse is that there seems not to have been accountability at the IEBC over that indictment and so a heavy cloud hangs over them,” said International Centre for Policy and Conflict (ICPC) Executive Director Ndung’u Wainaina.

The Supreme Court, in its judgment nullifying the disputed 2017 presidential poll, refused to apportion individual culpability, only blaming the IEBC for institutional failures that the judges said led to an illegal, invalid and unconstitutional presidential election.

3G/4G network

Last week, the IEBC sounded the alarm on the role of the CA, which is required by the law to connect all the polling stations to 3G/4G network and to transmit results to the IEBC headquarters as soon as the counting is done.

Ms Mercy Wanjau, who had been CA acting director-general following Francis Wangusi’s retirement, said the agency had seen access to broadband (3G and/or 4G) network shoot up to 96.3 per cent.

The CA, she said, was in consultation with the IEBC and service providers on how best to handle about 1,000 polling stations that are not covered by 3G/4G.

The apex court questioned IEBC’s “inexcusable contravention” of not transmitting results for 11,000 polling stations, some in areas like Kiambu, Murang’a and Kisumu town, places that were thought to have generally good network.

Ms Kassait’s office is a creation of the Data Protection Act under Article 260 (q) of the Constitution.

Data controllers

The office is mandated to maintain a register of data controllers and regulate processing of personal data, such as health and biometrics.

The law gives the commissioner powers to ensure security of the three types of data submitted by Kenyans to various processors and controllers – health, biometrics and personal details.

Besides the IEBC, processors and controllers whose activities are under the commissioner include the National Registration Bureau, hospitals, the National Hospital Insurance Fund and the National Social Security Fund.

So critical is Ms Kassait’s role that the roll-out of Huduma Namba to replace the national identity cards had to be delayed to await her vetting and approval by Parliament, with President Uhuru Kenyatta back then urging the House to fast-track the data law and, later, the approval of Ms Kassait.

Mr Muhati was named as head of Huduma Kenya and is in charge of the 52 Huduma Centres, the one-stop shop for most government services, including application for and fresh and duplicate identity cards.

The 52 centres are also critical in the rollout of the planned Huduma Namba.

Ms Nderitu, on the other hand, is charged with arbitrating in party squabbles as well as managing the Political Parties Fund.

Her office is crucial to the elections as she will be mandated to register political parties as well as receive, evaluate and register pre-election coalitions.

Party membership lists

Ms Nderitu’s office will also be in charge of political party membership lists, which will be used in the party primaries; the all-important precursor to the general election.

Only President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee and Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) qualify for the fund.

Parties are required to have at least three per cent of the total votes cast in a preceding general election to qualify for funding.

The law also requires that for parties to qualify, they must have at least three elected governors, 20 members of the National Assembly, three of the 47 senators and at least 40 members of the county assemblies.

This caveat means other big political parties such as Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper, Musalia Mudavadi’s ANC, Kanu of Baringo senator Gideon Moi, Moses Wetang’ula’s Ford-Kenya and Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua’s Maendeleo Chap Chap do not qualify for state funding.

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