IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati flanked by commissioners Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu.
THREE OF SEVEN:: IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati flanked by commissioners Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu/Courtesy

A fresh and ruthless power tussle has rocked the electoral commission that could throw the planned referendum and 2022 General Election preparations into disarray.

The Star has learnt top officials do not see eye to eye despite tight timelines as the country moves closer to twin polls in fewer than 14 monthsthe BBI referendum in June and general elections in August next year.

At the heart of the crisis is a bitter falling-out between commissioner Boya Moluthe man who chairs the agency’s human resources and administration committeeand acting CEO  Marjan Hussein Marjan.

Molu had reportedly opposed several human resource changes initiated by Marjan.

At one point their differences nearly degenerated into fistfights during commission meetings, insiders told the Star on Wednesday. 

Since then, Molu has reportedly declined to attend commission meetings, thereby consistently denying a legal quorum to the three-member team chaired by chairman Wafula Chebukati.

“There is big trouble. This is a time bomb waiting to explode. The commission has not had plenary sessions since late last year after the two clashed,” an insider aware of the intrigues said.

The senior official added, “How can you have a commission that is at war with itself ?”

While the chairman has not taken sides, it is understood that the clash between Molu and Marjan has drawn in other commission staff.

The situation is so bad that Molu is now being denied trips and has to literally force his way, the Star was told.

However, a defiant Molu has reportedly warned that he would go down with the entire commission.

With the quorum hitch, the IEBC cannot take any major decisions, including hiring or approving major procurement, as such a move is null and void.

The other commissioner is former University don Abdi Yakub Guliye.

Reached for comment, Chebukati dismissed the reports of infighting as false.

“Currently, all commissioners, including the CEO, are out of town to oversee the by-elections scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday) in performance of their duties,” he told the Star.

This was the same line taken by Guliye who said he was not aware of any disruption of paralysis in the commission.

“If we had not been meeting, the by-elections would not have happened,” Guliye told the Star. He was in Western for the Matungu and Kabuchai by-elections.

However, those in the know said by-elections are largely handled by regional teams and that the IEBC bosses and the commission chief play minimal roles.

Apparently, the problems between the two began when Marjan transferred some staff from Kitui and Lamu to the headquarters. Molu, who is chair of the HR committee, rejected the changes.

“Molu wondered why the changes effected were mainly in the Coast region and why he was not consulted,” a senior official said.

Apart from the many by-elections lined up across the country, the IEBC’s first major test is the BBI referendum.

The IEBC also has to conduct boundary delimitation and carve out the proposed 70 new constituencies as well as undertake massive voter registration.

In a previous interview, Guliye expressed fears the IEBC could experience technological challenges in future elections, largely due to lack of funding.

Guliye told the Star in June last year the Sh3.8 billion Integrated Elections Management System procured just months to the August 2017 polls risked becoming obsolete for lack of regular maintenance and servicing. 

In addition to the challenges, the commission also faced disbandment, a proposal expunged at the last minute from the BBI report.

The Chebukati team has been hopping from one crisis to another.

Days to the October 2017 repeat presidential polls, ex-commissioner Roselyn Akombe resigned in a huff and fled to the US, sayiing she feared for her life.

Five months later, three other commissioners, vice chair Connie Nkatha Maina, Margaret Mwachanya and Paul Kurgat announced their exit, citing a lack of confidence in Chebukati.

This followed the protracted and acrimonies suspension of CEO Ezra Chiloba. Chiloba was eventually fired.

Retired IEBC commissioners Lilian Mahiri Zaja and Thomas Letangule said they are not aware of any infighting but warned it would be a monumental blunder, coming when the political elite are baying for their blood.

“The thing is, you can’t squabble when, first of all, you are so few. Two, you are having by-elections and the country is preparing for a referendum.

“This is the wrong time to have disarray in the commission and they know that the commission has so many enemies, so they would rather stay strong,” Letangule said.

He said, however, the IEBC has previously taken offence at his public comments about the management of the electoral agency.

Zaja, the immediate former IEBC vice chair, said during her tenure, they decisively dealt with any issue that threatened the unity of the commission.

“It is unfortunate if there are divisions within the commission. During our time, we could handle the pressure, we handled them very well,” she said.

“Either internally because we had to work to deliver on our mandate and outside there, we had to ensure we managed public expectations and had a very close relationship with stakeholders. Working to earn public trust should be top priority for the commission.”

Zaja and Letangule served during the tenure of Ahmed Issack Hassan.

Former Senate Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chairman Samson Cherargei said with only three commissioners, the IEBC is already in a crisis.

“There are decisions these commissioners cannot make because they don’t have the quorum. That is why they make only administrative issue decisions which can be handled at departmental level.

“But when it comes to critical decisions under corporate governance, they cannot sit and agree on inherent issues that affect the commission,” he stated.

Senate Minority Whip Mutula Kilonzo Jr termed it a folly to leave the IEBC with only three commissioners.

“I sat in the committee that proposed to splitin a hierarchical formthe work of commissioners and secretariat. The commissioners are obviously performing managerial duties and getting their hands embroiled in all sorts of things…Parliament has failed to put this team in check,” he said.