A British company that has been supplying ballot papers for Kenya’s elections has been taken to a London court for corruptly winning tenders in Africa.
In what could damage the credibility of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and its officials, the firm, Smith and Ouzman, is alleged to have spent £413,552.12 (Sh56 million) to get tenders in Kenya, Mauritania, Ghana, and Somaliland.
UK newspapers Thursday reported that the firm, two of its directors, an employee and one agent, have been charged by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) with offences of corruptly agreeing to make payments.
The SFO said the charges relate to allegations of “agreeing to make payments totalling nearly half a million pounds, contrary to section one of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906. It is alleged that these payments were used to influence the award of business contracts to the company”.
During the last General Election, IEBC justified its controversial decision to single-source a Sh3 billion contract to the British company saying there was “limited time” for open tendering.
Although another British company, Aervote Ltd, filed a petition at the High Court seeking to stop supply and delivery of 15 million ballot papers over what it called “breach of procurement law”, the IEBC signed a contract with Smith and Ouzman on November 9, 2012 citing “reliability” of the firm to deliver the estimated 120 million ballot papers. The company has been printing ballot papers since 1997.
The individuals who have appeared in court are 70 year-old Chris Smith, the former chairman of Smith & Ouzman, his 42-year son, Nick Smith, who is the sales and marketing director, Tim Forrester, the international sales manager and Abdirahman Omar, an agent for Smith & Ouzman.
While the alleged offences took place between November 2006 and December 2010, the case is going to attract attention in Kenya where the company did lots of business with the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya, and the Interim Independent Electoral Commission. The accused are expected to appear at Southwark Crown Court on November 6.
During the last General Election, the locked-out companies complained that Smith and Ouzman did not have capacity to undertake the job. They argued that it sub-contracted other printers. The IEBC chairman Isaak Hassan, however, defended the company saying it was within the law.
A spokeswoman for Smith & Ouzman told a British paper: “We cannot comment on the allegations, which are entirely contrary to our principles of business conduct.”
UK’s Serious Fraud Office has been watching business contracts in Kenya after the controversial Anglo Leasing contracts which involved British companies. But SFO faced various challenges then and was forced to abandon investigations into Anglo Leasing after the Kenya government refused to cooperate.
Last year, they forced Oxford Publishing Ltd to pay almost £1.9 million as settlement after admitting unlawful conduct in Kenya and Tanzania.