Talk about the projected cost of the proposed referendum has snowballed into a fresh political battle pitting the electoral commission and Deputy President William Ruto on one hand and ODM leader Raila Odinga on the other.
ODM party yesterday tore into Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) over its Thursday justification of the Sh14 billion referendum budget, claiming the poll agency was hellbent on robbing Kenyans.
And while on a tour of Central Kenya yesterday, Ruto lashed out at Raila’s math, saying it did not make sense to conduct a plebiscite with the Sh2 billion he had proposed.
At a harambee for Boda Boda sacco at Kangema’s General Kago Stadium, Ruto said IEBC should be left alone as it is an independent institution.
Raila’s party in turn described the cost by the Wafula Chebukati-led team as ‘daylight robbery’ while the agency termed Raila’s Sh2 billion suggestion as “very unfortunate and lacks understanding of the conduct of elections”.
The latest clash and the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report recommending total overhaul of the electoral agency ahead of the 2022 General Election has put the remaining three commissioners — Chebukati, Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu — on the edge.
It also mirrors the path followed by previous electoral commissioners before being kicked out from office in the run-up to every general election. During a press conference at the party’s headquarters, ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna said time was up for the Chebukati-led commission:
He added: “The Chickengate scandal has already taught us that what seems like overshooting the budget and wanton wastage is in fact clear manifestation of theft. We are certain that if we left the chicken out of the IEBC’s so called budget, we can deliver a referendum at a cost of no more than Sh2 billion.”
Sifuna spoke in the company of ODM secretary of political affairs Opiyo Wandayi (Ugunja) and Samuel Atandi (Alego Usonga). The party yesterday cited a report by the National Assembly’s Public Account Committee (PAC) that indicted the commission for misappropriation of public funds.
“If we were in an advanced democracy, the IEBC team would have gone home immediately the report was adopted by the House,” said Wandayi, who is also PAC chairperson.
Wandayi said the IEBC estimated budget was a demonstration that the commission was not ready to be innovative to cut the cost of running elections in the country.
Raila on Thursday said the projection was “the latest indication that the electoral body and the entire election management must be overhauled and streamlined.”
But Chebukati has insisted that the estimated figure was calculated based on historical data and previous experience in managing elections in the country. The IEBC boss cited the 2010 referendum that cost the country Sh10 billion and 2017 repeat presidential poll that gobbled up Sh11.9 billion.
The commission said the proposed referendum to be conducted next year is estimated to cost Sh14 billion, having factored in all major cost drivers such as technology, ballot papers, temporary poll officials and security.
The commission also cited the prevailing Covid-19 environment as another cost driver.
“The commission will prepare a detailed budget once it receives notification to conduct a referendum and such a budget will be presented to relevant institutions for scrutiny and approval,” he added.
The statement was in response to Raila’s demand that the commission be disbanded over the “outrageous” budget. Raila said the country was not in the mood to allow such impunity to continue being perpetuated in the BBI project, which is meant to bring sanity to the electoral process.
The opposition chief suggested that they pick a team to sit with Chebukati-led commission to ensure “a cost-effective referendum exercise and elections.”
He said it appeared that the commission was determined to never develop an operational performance that contains costs.
“That kind of impunity cannot be allowed to soil an exercise like the upcoming BBI referendum whose objective, among others, is to stop the culture of theft of public resources and corruption in public offices,” Raila said in a statement on Thursday
In Nyeri yesterday, Ruto stated that President Uhuru Kenyatta had called for the BBI to be a national constitutional consensus moment.
“Let’s not push the country to a divisive referendum when we can sit down and agree on an acceptable plebiscite,” he said. “The reason I am in Kangema and specifically Muranga County as the DP of the country, I am employed by the people of Kenya. I came here intentionally to meet boda boda operators.
I appreciate the chicken gift, and I’m not a ashamed of my chicken business.” He said he was grateful that boda boda operators can get rider training at NYS which would streamline the industry associated with lawlessness.
He said for the first time in the history of the country, there was a conversation about the empowerment of the the ordinary people not just the positions created in the BBI.
Ruto was accompanied to Kangema and Mathioya by MPs Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu), Alice Wahome (Kandara), Rigathi Gachagua (Mathira), Jane Kihara (Naivasha), James Gakuya (Embakasi North), Moses Kuria (Gatundu South), Silvanus Osoro (South Mugirango), DK Kariuki (Ndia), Kimani Ichungwa (Kikuyu), county MPs Purity Ngirici (Kirinyaga) and Faith Gitau (Nyandarua).
In Mathioya, there was a security scare when a man broke away from the crowd and rushed towards Ruto. He was subdued by the DP’s bodyguards.
Murang’a County Commander Josphat Kinyua said the man was not arrested as he was not considered a threat. Ruto’s spokesman David Mugonyi said the man had wanted to present the DP with a pack of tea leaves.
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