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The hidden costs that make Kenya polls money guzzlers

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Security agents and presiding officers queue at Jamhuri High School to deliver voting materials at the tallying Center for Starehe Constituency, Nairobi on August 10, 2022. PHOTO | BILLY MUTAI | NMG

Kenya’s election is one of the most expensive in the continent, with the latest costing the taxpayer at least Sh44 billion. This is just what the electoral agency — the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) — has to spend to conduct the polls.

There are other attendant costs including the environmental clean-up after polls that are borne indirectly by the taxpayer and the lost time as elections drag on as well as the closure of schools and colleges, which come with additional costs to parents and learners.

There are other unquantifiable costs related to violence and mental health that society carries from one election to the other.

But the other expense least looked at is the outlay of defending the results by the IEBC through courts, as hundreds of losers turn to the Judiciary seeking to overturn the results. If successful, the agency is forced to conduct fresh elections, punishing taxpayers further for mistakes that are avoidable if the IEBC ensured free and fair elections.

Going by the trend in the past three general elections, the number of petitions is set to rise. During the 2017 General Election, there were 388 petitions filed in courts across the country.

In 2013, 188 election petitions were filed contesting various elective seats.

Of the 388 petitions filed post-2017 General Election, 174 were challenging the elections of governors and members of county assemblies, and 125 were against MPs and senators and women representatives. The highest in the category, 98, were challenging the election of MPs.

In the past four years, the commission spent Sh2.6 billion in legal fees.

Between 2018 and 2021, the commission spent 12.3 per cent of its total expenditure on legal fees with the highest being Sh859.3 million in the financial year 2017/2018.

As the electoral process now shifts to the Supreme Court, taxpayers are staring at new election bills that will run into billions of shillings to finance a repeat poll after Raila Odinga filed a petition seeking nullification of the August 9 presidential election results.

It is more painful if the fresh poll is boycotted, meaning that Kenyans end up paying for a process that has a pre-determined outcome.

Kenyans spent more than Sh10 billion in the repeat presidential election after the Supreme Court nullified the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta on August 8, 2017.

Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Alliance presidential candidate moved to the Supreme Court yesterday seeking to overturn the declaration of Kenya Kwanza Alliance leader William Ruto as President-elect with the Supreme Court set to hear and determine the case within 14 days.

If the Supreme Court nullifies the results as announced by IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati, Kenyans will return to the polls after 60 days.

The IEBC will be expected to procure new ballot boxes, print ballot papers and pay temporary election workers, deploy election technology, advertising, transport, polling officers’ wages and allowances for two police officers in every polling station.

“An order be and is hereby made directing the first respondent to organise and conduct a fresh presidential election in strict conformity with the Constitution and Elections Act,” said Mr Odinga in court papers.

Treasury data shows that the total allocation for direct and indirect expenditures for the 2022 General Election is Sh43.9 billion.

The IEBC, in 2017, sought Sh12.2 billion to finance the October 26 repeat election.

The Cabinet, however, approved a budget of Sh10 billion for the repeat presidential poll which Mr Kenyatta won after Mr Odinga boycotted.

The election law requires all election materials to be preserved for three years after the poll.

The IEBC technology, the Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS) kits will have to be configured for the repeat poll.

The IEBC will also need cash to pay network service providers Safaricom, Airtel and Telkom for transmission of results, refill gas cylinders for lighting and cater for other non-strategic materials.

The commission further needs funds for advertisements, repairing vehicles, distributing election materials and equipment and catering for one vehicle per polling station for several days.

The commission will also need money to hire space and expenses for the national tallying centre, meals and allowances for officials, voter mobilisation and training materials.

Mr Odinga and his running mate Martha Karua have filed 23 prayers they want the Supreme Court to grant.

This includes an order for the inspection of IEBC servers and scrutiny of the rejected and spoilt votes.

Azimio also wants an order for scrutiny and forensic audit of the Kenya Integrated KIEMS kits, the IEBC forms portal and the presidential election forms, including 34A, 34B and 34C.

“We have evidence we won this election. Some people who were involved have come out to say they were paid to cheat in the election results. They have given us information,” Mr Odinga said in an address shortly after filing the petition at the apex court.

“What has come out is very shocking. We didn’t have an election. The electoral thieves were in Bomas. They were changing election results at the auditorium.”

He accused Mr Chebukati and some of his staff of committing electoral fraud, adding that Azimio has presented enough evidence on the same to the court.

“Mr Chebukati and his commissioners differed. He announced presidential election results without 31 constituencies being tallied. It is a big shame for our democracy,” Mr Odinga said at the KICC.

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