The Star (Nairobi)

2 January 2013

Kenya: Ballot Papers May Delay Poll

The Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission has allayed fears expressed by a UK firm that the procurement of ballot papers for the March 4 general elections may be delayed.

The IEBC chief executive officer James Oswago said the UK firm contracted to print and supply the ballot papers--Smith & Ouzman--had given the commission the assurance that it would be able to deliver the papers and other election material on time.

Oswago said the firm had previously undertaken other printing work for the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) as well as the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) during the referendum and had been able to deliver the papers on time.

"I am absolutely sure that the company would deliver the papers on time and elections held as scheduled," Oswago said. The ballot papers are supposed to arrive latest February 18 which will be 14 days to the election date," said.

Oswago said the commission will today hold a press briefing to shed more light on the issue of ballot papers. ances come in the wake of concerns expressed by a UK-based Aero Vote Ltd, that the papers may be delayed.

Aero Vote Ltd is one of the firms which was locked out of the contract for the printing and supply of the ballot papers. The IEBC decided to give the contract to Smith & Ouzman without competitive bidding to save time.

The firm will receive Sh3 billion for the printing and supply of an estimated 120 million ballot papers. "We had tried before with the normal procurement process but we did not get the right supplier. The commission was also time-barred and therefore could not afford the long process outlined in the Public Procurement and Disposal Act," the IEBC vice chairperson Lillian Mahiri-Zaja said last November.

Aero Vote Ltd has now written to the Public Procurement and Oversight Authority (PPOA), IEBC, Justice minister Eugene Wamalwa, Finance minister Njeru Githae , Attorney General Githu Muigai and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission acting director Jane Mutharua warning of the possibility of a delay.

Aero Vote Ltd raised questions about the capacity of Smith & Ouzman to supply the ballot papers. Aero Vote Ltd managing director Chirag Sheth said no company in the world had the capacity to single handedly prepare, print and supply such a huge number of ballot papers and results sheets in less than two months.

Sheth said chances are high that Smith & Ouzman will be forced to sub-contract to third parties over whom the IEBC would not have control thereby introducing a security risk due to the numerous actors involved.

"The rational way would to use selective suppliers from the same region/area so the IEBC officials can really monitor production and for the ease of logistics," Sheth said in his letter to PPOA director general Morris Juma.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that Smith & Ouzman has already approached or sub-contracted two UK-based companies --Tall Security Printing and A1 Security Printing-- to print and supply some of the ballot papers and results sheets.

On page 10 of the contract signed by the IEBC, Smith & Ouzman are expressly forbidden to transfer or assign any or part of the contract.

The contract also forbids Smith & Ouzman from giving any information regarding the specifications of the ballot papers to third parties.

Last month, IEBC corporate affairs manager Tabitha Mutemi said she was not aware that the company was sub-contracting the printing of the ballot papers.

"Smith & Ouzman has been used by many countries before and even the former commission used their services," Mutemi said.

Yesterday, the Star established that officials of Smith & Ouzman will be visiting the country before next week to try and re-negotiate the contract to allow subcontracting.

IEBC identified Smith & Ouzman after it became apparent that it did not have enough time to place the multi-billion-shilling tender to competitive bidding.

Aero Vote expressed concerns that unless the issue of printing and supply of ballot papers was resolved, the Kenya elections might face similar challenges as those faced in Ghana's elections last year or in Nigeria in 2009.

Each voter will vote six times - for president, governor, senator, women's representative, an MP and a county representative -on separate ballot papers.

In addition to the ballot papers, IEBC is also expected to buy tens of thousands of indelible ink marker pens which will be used to mark those who will have cast their votes.

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