Can EAC acquire polling kits for member states?

Deo Mushi

WHEN Mr Liberat Mfumukeko was elected the new East African Community (EAC) Secretary General, I remember him to have reiterated his determination to cut down expenditure in that regional organisation.

Some of us with special interest in EAC success can say that Mfumekeko has managed to save substantially from travel expenses, now targeting procurement as another area in which the EAC can cut down cost immensely.

Mr Mfumukeko’s dream is to save six million US dollars in the current financial year, which is commendable thing, given that the regional body’s budget is largely dependent on donors. Indeed, kudos to you brother. Being cost conscious would impress donors and they would for sure be more committed, for they would see that what they give is well spent.

We all remember that the regional body was established to serve as a vehicle to bring together East African people, and in that regard, any initiative taken by the secretariat or other EAC organ should aim to ensure this goal is achieved. Making the EAC people-centred is the best way to ensure we have a strong and vibrant regional bloc.

If the EAC citizens feel attached to their organisation, it won’t require much effort wooing them to wholly support it.

It is under this particular aim that I see the role of EAC in managing and keeping all the polling kits which could be used when a particular member state holds its general election, as it is the case for Kenya this year.

I remember few days prior to the 2015 General Election, The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) promised to assist Tanzania to upgrade its voter registration system. A visiting UNDP Administrator Helen Clark was quoted saying that his organization understood that the national electoral body had computerised some things but the technology they were using was outdated, and that is why UNDP wanted the electoral commission to do - obtain modern technology.

I think UNDP could have gone a step further, and establish a system that could allow polling kits procurement system that could be applicable to all EAC member countries Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Southern Sudan.

If most of us remember well, the 2015 elections in Tanzania, the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits did cost 196bn/-, and after that exercise, those materials are safely preserved somewhere, waiting for the 2020 polls.

These same kits could be owned by the EAC that could have the task of establishing a friendly lending system for the member states. My argument is- if these kits were managed and preserved by the EAC it could be easier to lend them to Kenya during their August polls, instead of using billions of money to buy goods which could easily be obtained from a neighbour country.

Last week, the electoral commission of Kenya was advised to lease voting equipment from some countries, instead of buying some new ones.

Leaders at different stages say given the time taken and cost of procuring the equipment, it was easy to have a government-to-government arrangement that would see the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) hire the kits. Siaya Senator James Orengo said the IEBC could lease the equipment from countries such as India, Nigeria or Ghana, which had concluded their elections not so long ago.

The procurement of equipment is one of the things likely to complicate the elections in Kenya, given the few days remaining. For the time being, I think Kenya could lease from a country like India, which had over 800 million voters cast the ballot and thousands of the kits are now lying idle.

That option would allow Kenya election Body some time to concentrate on other issues away from procurement of the equipment, like ensuring the electronic voter identification and transmission of results do not fail.

We may remember that the equipments used in Venezuela and Argentina were leased from Brazil and they performed just well.

So there is no point for Kenya to amend the electoral law for fear that the kits would fail, and what the electoral body would now need to do is reconfigure the equipment once they are hired, and that is all. In fact, the hiring of equipment in Kenya is the most viable option, given the time remaining before the August General Election.

By hiring from countries like Nigeria or Ghana though a government-to-government arrangement, the IEBC will have saved all the time for procurement, a process that would include advertising for tender, evaluation and picking of the firm.

I do not think there is any much mathematics, especially when it is a government-to-government deal. At the bottom line, my today’s call is to let EAC think aloud, and establish a system that can purchase polling for member states during election, and that could really reduce uncalled for expenses.

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