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Economy

State roots for manual polls system amid hacking fears

ICT secretary Joe Mucheru. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU
ICT secretary Joe Mucheru. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU 

The government has insisted that there must be a manual system to back up the electronic voter identification and results transmission in the August 2017 General Election amid fears of technology hacking.

The ICT ministry and the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) say the threats of Al-Shabaab, electronic systems failures and human error cannot be ruled out in the next polls.

This view was also adopted by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which asked Senators to arrive at a bipartisan approach on the best way possible of securing the next election in case of systems failure.
IEBC chief executive officer Ezra Chiloba told the Senate that the commission was not consulted to provide input when the contentious Elections Laws (Amendment) Act, 2016 was enacted by Parliament.

“It should be noted that when the new laws were enacted, the IEBC was never consulted and indeed neither was the general public,” he said.

Joe Mucheru, the ICT secretary, told the Senate committee reviewing the Bill that an electronic system might be hacked or destroyed by Al-Shabaab terrorists, and that it is also prone to network failures.

“As a country, we cannot be held hostage. We need to have a backup to provide alternatives when such a situation occurs,” he said at County Hall in Nairobi. The committee, chaired by Senator Amos Wako, is gathering public views on the contentious 2016 Election Laws (Amendment) Bill which was acrimoniously passed by the National Assembly and referred to the Senate.

Senators Hassan Omar, Mutula Kilonzo Jr and Judith Sijeny dismissed the government position that the country was not prepared to use an electronic system to run the next General Election.

They criticised the minister for using Al-Shabaab to create unnecessary fears that the use of an electronic system in the polls would be difficult. But Mr Mucheru sought to clarify that the paper voting system will only be used in the event the electronic one fails.

“We must have a system that allows people to vote, when the electronic system fails,” he said.

Deputy Senate Speaker Kembi Gitura and Kiraitu Murungi agreed with the minister, saying it is unfair for Kenyans to be duped into believing that a manual system will lead to rigging.

“Manual has been made a bad word, yet for rigging you can do so more effectively using electronic devices,” Mr Murungi said.

Juma Kandie, the CAK human resources director, said the regulator is exploring options to ensure that the 22 per cent of the country that is not covered is provided with a telecommunication network.

Senators sought to know why the CA cannot bring the 22 per cent of Kenya under a telecommunications network before the August election.

“We have to explore technology and satellite is one of technologies that can be considered to deal with areas that are not covered. A technical committee within IEBC is working on this,” Mr Kandie said.

He said that it is possible to deploy technology in the next election but there are other costs such as procurement and the time needed to roll out the 3G network to areas that are not covered.

CA said it has tendered for provision of voice and data in 164 locations using USF and had awarded tenders for 78 locations so far.

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