THE electoral commission on Saturday rejected an offer by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be supplied with free Biometric Voter Registration kits ahead of the March general election.
Sources privy to a Saturday meeting between Clinton and IEBC team led by chairman Ahmed Issack, vice chairperson Lilian Mahiri and CEO James Oswago said Clinton offered to pursue the matter with Washington if IEBC put through the request.
The kits were to be bought by the Americans from the Canadian firm Code Inc, which undertook the pilot BVR project in 18 constituencies. It would have then be donated to the IEBC by the Americans as part of their support for free, fair and credible elections.
IEBC and other officials present, however, objected to the matter citing political implications that may arise from such a donation.
"The IEBC was concerned that even granted that the political implications were put aside, time constraints would make the operationalisation of the project impossible owing to the limited time left," said the source.
The Commission on Implementation of the Constitution chairman, Charles Nyachae, confirmed that the issue of BVR featured in the discussions with Clinton. He said he got the impression that the issue had featured in Clinton's earlier meetings with President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Chief Justice Willy Mutunga and National Assembly Speaker Marende due to the special emphasis she seemed to have on it.
Nyachae said his understanding of Clinton's offer was that the US could consider helping out on the BVR if requested. He said both he and the IEBC chairman made it clear to Clinton that the commission should be left to deliver free and fair election away from influence by any quarters, including the Cabinet.
"We made our point that what is at stake in this is the constitutional requirement that IEBC delivers credible and fair election. In terms of the system, they must use a system that ensures that this is achieved and the decision on which system remains for IEBC to make. Trying to push them to such specific terms as we have heard may not be helpful," said Nyachae.
The Cabinet had on Friday advised IEBC to go back to BVR. This was days after IEBC canceled the BVR tender and opted to go manual.
The CEO of the Elections Observer Group (ELOG) Kennedy Masime who attended the meeting said Clinton committed to help but only if requested: "She said they can do it but they have to be requested. In other words, its up to them."
National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) chair Mzalendo Kibunjia who also attended the meeting said Clinton sounded "very concerned" about the BVR: "She was asking what the fuss was all about and all."
Kibunjia said Clinton proposed that the NCIC embarks on a project to explain to Kenyans the practical economic effects of the Sh1 billion economy loss visited on the country by the post election violence of 2008.
"The bottom-line for her was that all institutions should pull all the stops to prevent the 2007/8 experience from recurring. And she agreed that her government will help in this regard," he said.
Nyachae said Clinton assured him that her government will exert its diplomatic influence to ensure that the government remains committed to the implementation of the constitution. He said this does not amount to interference.
Another issue which emerged at the meeting is the practical application of the constitutional requirement that at least a third of all elective seats be occupied by "either gender." Clinton was keen on an arrangement that will guarantee the achievement of this requirement in the election. She is also said to have been keen on civil society organization's role in watching over the election process.
In a media statement issued prior to the meeting, Clinton publicly urged the commission to deliver credible election such that no one will have cause to complain and feel taken for a ride. She used the example of her experience in politics to drive the point home.
"I know its a complex election with many ballots at one go but I know the IEBC can make it and deliver it in such a manner as will make people proud the following day. I am a politician myself, I have won and lost election and I know it is important to let aspirants feel it was fair," she said. Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA-K) executive director Grace Maingi-Kimani also attended the meeting.