Censure of IDEMIA by Kenyan National Assembly could threaten biometric registration drive

Kenya’s National Assembly has voted to suspend IDEMIA from government contracts for 10 years, due to allegation of a violation of the Companies Act and problems in the last two general elections, potentially threatening the progress of the country’s Huduma Namba registration exercise, the Daily Nation reports.

Members of Parliament amended a recent report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the audited accounts of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). IDEMIA was found to have received irregular payments for work related to the 2017 general election, in which an opposition leader claimed the company’s system was hacked.

IDEMIA won a tender for 6 billion Kenyan shillings (US$59 million) to register Kenyans for the Huduma Namba national ID system, and government spokesperson Eric Kiraithe told the Nation that the government is studying parliament’s decision, and registration drive, which recently reached 8 million people, will continue in the meantime.

The company defended itself to the PAC earlier this year, saying the technology deployed provided fair value to the country. The PAC ruled IDEMIA in violation of the Companies Act for not registering to operate in the country when it began business dealings with the government, but only sanctioned the IEBC.

A source of confusion, and possibly also the registration issue, is the frequent rebranding of IDEMIA in recent years. Its predecessor Safran Morpho supplied Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits for the IEBC in 2013, but had changed to OT-Morpho by the 2017 elections, after Oberthur Technologies and Safran Identity & Security completed a merger in May of that year. Multiple MPs claimed that the frequent name changes are suspicious, including Majority Leader Aden Duale.

“This company was invited by PAC but failed to honor the invitations until it was compelled to do so,” Duale said. “We must deal with it if we want to have free and fair elections in 2022. Companies that do business in Kenya must be ready to follow our laws, otherwise they will get into corruption and unethical behavior, and they don’t employ our people. They must do business ethically, the same way they do in France.”

The Companies Act also stipulates that companies must have local representation, which IDEMIA has admitted it did not.

IDEMIA did not respond to Biometric Update’s request for comment prior to publication.

Update – Comments from IDEMIA and Kenya’s Ministry of Information, Communications, and Technology are included in this follow-up article.

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