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Kenya: Electoral Commission

Volume 689: debated on Wednesday 31 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What representations they have made to the Government of Kenya following the appointment of members of the Electoral Commission without consultation with opposition parties.

My Lords, Section 41 of the Kenyan Constitution grants the president exclusive rights to appoint commissioners to the Electoral Commission of Kenya. However, in the interests of a sound electoral process, it is essential that the Electoral Commission be perceived as independent and impartial by the Kenyan electorate. We, along with our EU partners, stressed the importance of this to Foreign Minister Tuju on 18 January. We will continue to make these points to the Kenyan Government.

My Lords, I warmly welcome the Minister’s reply. Does he agree that it is an absolute prerequisite of a free and fair election in any country that the commission organising it is clearly seen to be independent? That has been assured in this country by consulting opposition party leaders on appointments to the commission, as President Moi did. Does the Minister therefore agree with the outgoing chairman of the commission, who is quoted in the Kenyan press as saying that if it is constituted in a way that people are not happy with, they will not trust the result?

My Lords, there is a very real risk that people will not trust the result. The objections that I have read appear to be not so much to the individuals named—they are clearly legally appointed by the President under the Kenyan Constitution—but to the fact that opposition parties have plainly not been consulted. That is a weakness which we will continue to bring to the attention of the Kenyan Government.

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House what the reaction of the Foreign Minister of Kenya was?

My Lords, the Foreign Minister of Kenya takes the view that the President has powers under Section 41 of the Kenyan Constitution and that he has exercised them properly. However, he also takes into account the considerable apprehension felt about the fact that the opposition have not been consulted and that we regard that as a weakness.

My Lords, will Her Majesty’s Government take any of this into account when considering precisely how much aid we should be giving to Kenya and where it is going?

My Lords, with respect, the question misconceives the way in which aid goes to Kenya. There is no general government support, because corruption in the country is so acute that it would not be possible to give budgetary support as we do, for example, in Tanzania. Rather, there is support for particular NGOs and to tackle particular famine problems, and we are trying to ensure—I believe we have succeeded in ensuring—that the money goes to those who should not suffer further from climatic and other disasters.

My Lords, is not the failure of the Government of Kenya to tackle the Anglo Leasing scandal, and the appointment of the nine new members of the Electoral Commission without regard to political balance and without consultation, evidence that the new Government have disappointed all those who supported the previous one’s dismissal? Furthermore, were these matters raised by the Commonwealth Secretary-General on his recent visit when he said that the secretariat’s involvement with Kenya was intense, and could the secretariat play any part in mediating between the Government and the opposition to sort these matters out to the satisfaction of the public?

My Lords, I am not aware of the entire content of Don McKinnon’s discussions with the Kenyan Government, but I can say on behalf of this Government that the promises President Kibaki made, especially about the kinds of reforms he will achieve in the first 100 days of taking office, have been worse than disappointing. There is plainly a great deal to be done, and I believe that the Commonwealth, together with sovereign Governments such as our own, must continue to press these points.

My Lords, my noble friend said that corruption in Kenya is acute with regard to funding. Is it thought that the appointment of this commission is also a manifestation of that corruption?

My Lords, I do not think it can be said that this is corruption in the sense that I used the words a few moments ago, but it is plainly a distortion of a political process if people do not try to secure the arrangements which will give confidence in the electoral outcome. We are seeing the simple use of complete executive power without regard to opposition interests, which is a frailty if people wish to construct a democracy.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many Members of this House may be more concerned about the Electoral Commission of Kenya than the Electoral Commission of our own country? Is he also aware that there is now more fraud in postal voting in Britain than there is in Kenya?

My Lords, no one has drawn my attention to any postal voting in Kenya. I do not know whether there is provision for postal voting in Kenya. The potential flaws in the Kenyan election system, were they to occur in the United Kingdom, would probably create an outcry far greater than the noble Lord has just made.