Former electoral agency CEO Ezra Chiloba has presented to Parliament damning dossier against chairman Wafula Chebukati, describing his tenure as a “deal-cutting” reign punctuated by personal business interests.
In documents obtained by the Star from the Public Accounts Committee dated February 19, Chiloba paints his ex-boss as a man who ran a one-man-show at IEBC’s Anniversary Towers, pursuing private business agreements at the expense of the public interest.
Chiloba’s letter requested by PAC addresses three main issues: conflict of interest concerning Cebukati’s law firm Cootow & Associates Advocates, conflict of interest in the procurement of ballot papers and emerging issues in plenary minutes. He attached supporting documentation.
The IEBC, which is functioning minus four commissioners, is in charge or organising general elections, by-elections and referendums and reviewing boundaries.
The PAC has been probing the mess at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission following a special audit by the Auditor General Edward Ouko. This weekend the committed is expected to retreat to compile and write its final report.
Chiloba, who was pushed out of office by Chebukati after months of power struggles, said the chairman left no doubt in every decision that he wanted to control tenders and procurement.
Repeated efforts to call and text Chebukati and his PA yesterday were unsuccessful.
The ex-CEO explained how Chebukati personally fronted a South African printing firm, Ren-form for the contract to print presidential ballot papers at a time when the Al Ghurair Group printing tender award was being challenged in court.
The Sh2.5 billion ballot paper printing deal sparked battles at the commission and pressure from the Opposition, who also wanted the tender annulled.
Chiloba said Chebukati marshalled the majority of commissioners against Al Ghurair during hearing of the case and engineered a commission meeting to deliberate on another firm being awarded the contract.
Immediately after the meeting, Chiloba said, Chebukati summoned him to his office where he pulled a document from under his table and handed it to him.
“I was surprised but did not show it,” Chiloba said in his letter to Opiyo Wandayi’s Public Accounts Committee.
The committee, which has summoned witnesses including Chiloba, Chebukati, current and former commissioners, is nearing the end of its investigation.
Chiloba added that Chebukati told him, “Please take note that we never met.”
“As we were still discussing, Commissioner Roselyn Akombe joined us. I could read from the body language that the two knew about the document,” Chiloba said, appearing to draw Akombe into the tender wars at the IEBC.
He added, “There is no doubt that the proposal by Ren-form was known to Chebukati and (most probably Dr Akombe). Why did they not feel free to have the name of Ren-form discussed at the plenary like all others before the decision was reached? Who requested Ren-form to submit a proposal?” Chiloba asked.
In fact, Chiloba said, immediately after Chebukati gave him the letter, the chairman arranged to have a plenary session on July 17, 2017, to secure a vote that would nullify the Al Ghurair contract.
He said Chebukati later followed up with him on the progress of procuring the presidential ballot papers in what appeared to confirm the chairman wanted Al Ghurair out of the way in favour of Ren-form .
Chiloba said the Court of Appeal decided to uphold the tender award to Al Ghurair, endingChebukati’s plans for Ren-Form.
When he appeared before the PAC over the Auditor General’s special audit report last year, Chebukati accused Chiloba of open hostility and ill-will toward the commission.
“The role of the commission is policy formulation, strategy and oversight. We told the secretariat to go ahead with procurement but in accordance with the law,” Chebukati said.
Unearthing what he called deep-seated business interests at the commission, Chiloba also accused Chebukati of personally engaging law firms that represented the commission on post-election poll petitions.
Chiloba says that in most cases, he was removed by Chebukati from overseeing procurement issues, with the chairman usurping his powers as the legal accounting officer to irregularly award contracts to his preferred advocates.
“As the Accounting Officer, I had the responsibility to ensure that contracts in all matters were awarded in accordance with the law. I wish to point out that most letters of appointments of advocates in relation to the petitions were signed after the fact (post-facto),” Chiloba wrote.
In other words, Chiloba said, he signed the letters after the cases had already been allocated and advocates were already in court on behalf of the commission.
“This was a fait accompli,” the ex-CEO concluded.
Further revealing the turmoil at the IEBC prior to and after the last general election, Chiloba gives a blow-by-blow account of how Chebukati, on several occasions, insisted on circumventing the law to advance his personal interests.
For instance, Chiloba said Chebukati could have pocketed about Sh30 million from the commission after his former law firm, Cootow & Associates, was awarded poll petitions contracts.
That law firm was awarded tenders in the petitions of Ikolomani and Likoni constituencies, Kilifi and Kwale counties y involving the Woman MP and Mombasa county Woman Representative.
Others are the Mombasa County Assembly Party List, the Nairobi County Assembly Party List and the Migori County Gubernatorial petition.
Chiloba said that while Cootow & Associates was pre-qualified to provide legal services to the commission in 2016, a year before Chebukati joined the commission, the chairman did not disclose that fact to the commission.
“I have every reason to believe that Chebukati had all along known or facilitated the allocation of work to his former law firm,” Chiloba said.
He said that when he approached Chebukati over the law firm, the chairman who indicated to him that he had resigned from the firm.
“I informed him that in as much as he might have resigned, the decision to have Cootow & Associates representing the commission was going to be major problem. Noting that the firm was already representing the commission, I reluctantly signed the letters,” Chiloba wrote.
Submitting as evidence that Chebukati favoured his law firm in the tenders, Chiloba said the chairman had direct contact with the Legal Directorate and rarely referred the issues to the Office of the Accounting Officer.
Chiloba said that no sooner had the chairman been appointed than he started complaining to him how a former commissioner, who was the Chairman of the Legal Committee, never gave Cootow & Associates work, despite the two having known each other.
“The assumption Chebukati made was that the Legal Committee awards contracts to law firms. This was farther from the truth and/or legal position,” Chiloba added.
Being the only lawyer at the commission, Chebukati also doubled as chairman of the legal committee.
Most of the issues discussed at the legal committee, according to Chiloba, found their way to the plenary, indicating Chebukati’s wide interests.