By John Ngirachu
Electoral commission chairman Wafula Chebukati has been linked to a tender for legal services which suggests the appearance of conflict of interest in a position which demands the highest integrity.
Cootow and Associates, founded by Mr Chebukati in February 2006, has represented the Independent Electoral and Boundaries (IEBC) in at least six election petitions.
These touch on National Assembly seat elections in Likoni, Ikolomani and Kilifi North constituencies; Woman Representative polls in Mombasa and Kilifi counties and governor’s seat poll in Migori County.
While neither Mr Chebukati nor the firm is being accused of wrongdoing, it does raise the question whether it was prudent for that firm to seek business from a public institution — and a veritable swamp of corruption and funny deals at that — headed by its founder.
The revelations come in the midst of a damaging slugfest between Mr Chebukati and the chief executive officer, Mr Ezra Chiloba, whom the chairman succeeded in sending home last week, after six failed attempts to do so. Mr Chebukati has ordered an investigation into five tenders.
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It appears that both sides are now leaking each other’s business deals to the media.
Yesterday, another commissioner and an ally of Mr Chebukati in the suspension of Mr Chiloba, Mr Moya Bolu denied that he used IEBC lorries to transport construction materials from Nairobi to his building site in Uri Hill, Marsabit.
Mr Chebukati did not respond to inquiries via calls and text messages but is understood to have taken the position that he left the law firm, Cootow and Associates, when he was appointed chairman of the IEBC.
Tabitha Mutemi, a communications manager at the commission, told the Nation that the law firm had been prequalified to offer legal services in the 2015/16 financial year.
Ms Mutemi however said Mr Chebukati resigned from the firm prior to taking up his appointment at the IEBC and there are records at the Companies’ Registry showing that.
She said the allocation of work to the lawyers and the contracts and instruction letters were done by Mr Chiloba unilaterally and the board (the commission) was not involved.
Sources at the commission said a section of top officials were yesterday making efforts to obtain “crisis management assistance”, a euphemism for suppressing the damaging report.
IEBC has been divided since the decision by Mr Chebukati, backed by two commissioners, Prof Abdi Guliye and Mr Molu, to send Mr Chiloba on compulsory leave to allow for an audit of five contracts awarded for the elections last year.
According to documents seen by the Nation, the two lorries said to have been used to transport construction material to Marsabit had the number plates GKA517V and GKA030F.
An internal memo from the fleet coordinator at the IEBC to the Director Finance on January 5 indicates that the two drivers given the assignment were authorised to do the job and were paid a total of Sh169,000.
Mr Molu said he was the victim of a person outside the commission pushing a negative narrative about him because he was among the commissioners who voted to send Mr Chiloba on leave.
“I am not aware of anything like that. The only person who can tell you substantively that there is a commission vehicle that runs private affairs or not is the accounting officer,” said Mr Molu.
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