Wednesday, August 09, 2006

We Don’t Need 21 Electoral Commissioners

The editorial, “Pact on Poll Body Needed” (DN Aug 9, 2006), echoed Chairman Samwel Kivuitu’s repeated cries: that reforming Kenya’s electoral law is not only necessary but urgent. Among other things, we need to—once and for all—stop political appointments into the Commission. Since the country’s electoral law was legislated in 1963, electoral commissioners have always been political appointees. The reintroduction of multi party politics in 1992 did not help. In fact, things got worse as political parties jostled for positions in the commission. Gradual increase of political interests has catapulted the number of commissioners from nine in 1991 to the current 23, including the Chairman and his deputy.

As a result, Kenya has the world’s largest Electoral Commission in terms of members. No country comes close. For instance, Uganda and Tanzania have seven commissioners each. South Africa has six, whereas Nigeria, which boasts Africa’s largest number of registered voters (58,000), has 12 commissioners. The United States and United Kingdom have six commissioners each. The Democratic Republic of Congo that just held its first elections since independence has eight commissioners. The Election Commission of India—which oversees 670 million votes (60 times more than Kenya)—is administered by four commissioners. One therefore wonders what is so special with Kenya’s 11.6 million votes that it requires a multitude of commissioners to oversee electoral transparency.

Most Kenyans would agree that their bloated electoral body has been a source of unnecessary political confrontations, which can be eliminated by reducing the number of commissioners. A smaller number, say five, would mean fewer positions for political parties to fight about. This would also increase scrutiny of candidates in parliament. Finally, only candidates who are well qualified and untainted by party politics would become Electoral Commissioners.

However, reducing the number of commissioners is by itself a political battle. Chairman Kivuitu has already warned of political problems if ECK’s composition was not molded to reflect the current political environment (DN Aug 8, 2006). Unfortunately, such proposals have been implemented three times before, but without much success. In fact, appointing commissioners to reflect political climate is the cause of all ECK problems.

Consider that in 1992, the commission membership was remolded to portray commitment to multiparty politics. In 1997, the membership was altered through the IPPG to fit political demands of day. The membership structure was also altered in 2003 to include members of the short-lived Rainbow Coalition. And for the fourth time in the fourth multi party elections, Kenyans want to repeat the same mistake knowing very well that it does not work. That should not happen.

Let’s not forget Benjamin Franklin’s wisdom, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Is that where we are going? I say No, because We Kenyans must not let political winds dictate structures of our civil institutions.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Kenya's military budget baffling

I published this article in the Daily Nation (03/01/2006):

Did you know that Kenya is the biggest military spender in East Africa? Our military budget has always dwarfed those of our sister states, Uganda and Tanzania. Moreover, we have been spending more per military personnel than Ethiopia did during its war with Eritrea, Sudan with SPLA and now in Darfur, and Uganda with the LRA.

Interestingly by 1999, Kenya's army of 24,000 personnel was the smallest in the region. This is according to the World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers, a 2003 study by the United States Department of State. Ethiopia's army of 300,000 personnel was the largest, followed by Sudan's 105,000. Uganda and Tanzania had 50,000 and 35,000 military personnel respectively.

You would expect that our small army and relative peace within our borders would translate to a smaller military budget. But that has never been the case, at least, since 1989 when the US Department of State started collecting East African military expenditure data. In 1999, Kenya spent $8,000 (Sh560,000) for every military personnel. This was more than four times that of Ethiopia (Sh120,000), almost three times that of Uganda (Sh200,000), two and a half times that of Tanzania (Sh244,000), and double that of Sudan (Sh280,000).

Kenya's military budget has since 1999 skyrocketed to significant levels. The above military expenditures indicate that Kenya has surely been spending as if she was at war. However, we have had peace, which makes one wonder how the Department of Defense (DoD) ended up spending Sh150 billion between 1989 and 1999.

The answers are buried in the secrecy surrounding these budgets, which are never disclosed to the public for "security" reasons. Worse still, the Parliament's Defence and Security committee, currently chaired by Embakasi MP David Mwenje, lacks power to scrutinise defence spending.
Doesn't that provide a perfect recipe for fraudulent defence deals? It does. Those who have read John Githongo's dossier would agree that lack of transparency has historically made successive defence budgets a perfect haven for corruption. And that's how Anglo Leasing organisers found their way into our nation's coffers.

While hoping that those named in vague defence contracts will face justice, something has to be done differently: Transparency in defence spending. To achieve that goal, Parliament must grant its Defence and Security committee powers to scrutinise military budgets. Failure to do so would make attempts to protect our sovereignty an illusion.