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Chebukati in war with state over foreign funding of 2022 polls

THE STAR 10/4/2021

Electoral agency accuses the government of trying to micromanage its affairs.

Budget Committee chairman Kanini Kega (in pink shirt) with IEBC commissioners at his office in Parliament, September 29, 2021. View pictures in App save up to 80% data.
Budget Committee chairman Kanini Kega (in pink shirt) with IEBC commissioners at his office in Parliament, September 29, 2021. Image: EZEKIEL AMING'A

The state’s move to deploy an interloper to superintend IEBC foreign funding has triggered a standoff that threatens to disrupt preparations for next year’s polls. 

The Star has established that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission is currently embroiled in a tiff with President Uhuru Kenyatta's administration over funds monitoring.

The crux of the matter is the state's decision to deploy an agent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to purportedly oversee the commission's financial engagements with foreign agencies.

The commission, which has continuously complained about inadequate financing by the National Treasury, has always resorted to international aid to bridge budget gaps.

However, the state's latest move—likely to give it sweeping powers to negotiate for foreign aid on behalf of the IEBC—is precipitating a crisis.

The commission chaired by Wafula Chebukati has now accused the state of trying to micromanage it by interfering in its autonomy.

In a terse letter dated September 17 and addressed to the Foreign Affairs PS, Amb. Macharia Kamau, Chebukati has claimed the "suspicious" directive has staged a cash crisis.

He says the commission is not accountable to a government ministry or state department but Parliament, and it enjoys “varying degrees of financial autonomy and accountability”.

“We reiterate the commission’s independence in the performance of its functions, which shall not be subject to the control of any authority as envisaged in the Constitution,” Chebukati says.

The IEBC boss says the state does not need to "plant" its agent in the name of a liaison officer as the agency submits to the President and the speakers of Parliament a sufficient annual report.

“This report details the commission’s functions, performance on its activities, affairs, and financial statements. Of importance is that the commission reports its engagement with development partners and donors,” Chebukati says.

On July 12, the government directed that it has to approve any foreign funding to the IEBC and that it would be the one to initiate such requests.

The government cited attempts by foreign entities to interfere with the conduct of elections and asked embassies, missions, international organisations and foreign bodies keen to support 2022 polls to wait.

In a letter to diplomats, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo said the “state would bear the sole prerogative to coordinate election-related needs and resource gaps that may call for partnership.

“This will be communicated officially through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” said the memo to all diplomatic missions, accredited international organisations and other foreign entities domiciled in Nairobi.

The state had directed that foreign entities that were already working with the IEBC towards 2022 formalise the engagements with MFA.

“Kenya is cognisant of recently orchestrated events and experiences meant to interfere and sometimes lead to skewed national election outcomes globally,” the letter read.

The MFA disclosed that there was significant interest from embassies, missions, and international organisations in Nairobi and abroad to support the upcoming general election.

But Chebukati holds that the move—and also having to rely on the exchequer 100 per cent—amounts to interfering with the independence of the electoral management body.

Chebukati cited Section 26 of the IEBC Act, which says: “Except as otherwise provided in the Constitution, the commission shall not be subject to the direction of any person or authority…but shall observe the principle of public participation and the requirement for consultation with stakeholders.”

The IEBC boss said the IEBC is unable to conduct key preparatory activities like training poll officials, security officers, and facilitating other areas inadequately funded by the National Treasury.

The commission thus wants MFA to provide it with logistical support to conduct the activities “and not the intended stifled constraints or bottlenecks on financial assistance.

“If you are stopping the commission from getting assistance from donors, then the National Treasury must fund the commission 100 per cent in terms of the proposed budget,” Chebukati said.

The IEBC requested Sh40.9 billion to conduct the next general election but has been allocated Sh26.3 billion, leaving a funding gap of Sh14.6 billion.

The commission boss warned of a repeat of past incidents when the agency has suffered insufficient and untimely allocation, as well as the release of funds.

“It is informative to note that an election budget is pegged on activities during an electoral period,” Chebukati said, adding that the funding gaps are normally met by foreign donors.

“This framework has enabled the commission to run its activities and operations seamlessly to deliver a timely, free, fair and credible election.”

A diplomat aware of the tussle between the Foreign Affairs ministry and the IEBC told the Star they have raised it with relevant Kenyan authorities but there has been no response so far.

“We sought comment of State House and MFA itself, but it seems the decision is made on this issue. We don’t know what the end will be. We are ready to engage the IEBC, but it won’t happen for now,” said the diplomat who asked not to be named.

The official said Kenya is keen to control funding to the IEBC but they do not know the motive. “We are waiting for now.”

The IEBC has further accused the government of denying it “some degree of financial autonomy” by failing to implement the IEBC Fund.

Chebukati accused the National Treasury of being reluctant to implement the law giving effect to the creation of the autonomous fund.

“Despite legislation to give effect to the same, the fund remains un-operational due to reluctance to implement by the Treasury,” he said, reiterating that the commission must be allowed to manage its activities and budget.

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