Lakshmanan Ganapathy lifted his shoulders, opened his eyes a little wider and, with an apologetic voice, began to answer the question.
The general manager of Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing LLC had been asked, by a member of the delegation monitoring the last stage of the printing of the ballot papers for the Kenyan election, whether the controversy that blew up over the process had in any way damaged the company’s reputation.
Mr Ganapathy said the size of the Al Ghurair group of companies is worth $22 billion.
“A group like us would not venture into anything illegal, immoral or unethical for a small money,” he said.
The company has had an agreement with the United Nations Development Programme since 2012 and has printed election materials for the elections in Haiti, Libya, Afghanistan, Burundi, Madagascar, the Central African Republic and others.
“This is our 86th election project,” said Mr Ganapathy of the current process.
He took time to inform the delegation that the company is not part of Al Ghurair Group, whose chairman, Majid Saif Al Ghurair, was in a delegation from the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry that met President Uhuru Kenyatta.
He said the company compound is monitored round the clock on closed-circuit television cameras.
“We have been running it in all machines for the last five days,” he said of the presidential ballot papers, whose printing ended on Thursday night, almost eight days after the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission was given the go-ahead by the Court of Appeal on that set of papers.
The ballot papers to be used in the elections in 10 days’ time have a series of security features that would make it impossible to duplicate or create others, Mr Ganapathy said.
He told a delegation from Kenya at the firm’s headquarters in Dubai that the company bought 1,200 tonnes of special security paper for the ballots.
The paper is different from the usual bond paper (the most common of which is photocopying paper) in that it does not reflect ultraviolet light, which increases the visibility of the security features embedded in it.
Mr Ganapathy told the team visiting the factory in Dubai that the paper has random ultraviolet fibres that are mixed with the wood pulp from which the paper is made during manufacturing.
“These security features are in the raw material. It takes four to eight weeks to get this paper manufactured,” said Mr Ganapathy.
The watermark can be seen when the paper is held up to the light the same way one can see the watermark on a currency note.
The next set of security features is inserted during the printing process, which Mr Ganapathy said had been done with machines that print 100,000 ballots per hour.
If you make a photocopy of the ballot paper, the copy comes out with lines across the printed surface obscuring the print, which would make it easy to determine that the paper is not the original.
The papers also feature an invisible IEBC logo. Printed in ultraviolet ink, it can only be seen under ultraviolet light.
Looked at from afar, the borderlines on the ballot papers look like ordinary lines, but are actually a very small font that can only be read using a lens.
The papers also have a Guilloche pattern, a decorative technique that has a precise, intricate and repetitive pattern most commonly used in the printing of currency notes.
They are also embossed with the IEBC logo and after the images and names of the candidate are printed, numbered serially, using tapered numbers (the ones that start small on the left and grow in size).
“These (security features) are hard to produce for a printer with no security printing experience,” said Mr Ganapathy.
Each book of ballot papers has 50 leaves and these are then packed together as per polling station.
The pack with the books of ballot papers and forms to be filled after counting of the ballots are packed together in a polythene bag.
The poster to be put up at the polling station showing the results is included in that package.
Each pallet is labelled with the number of the constituency, and where it is more than a metre tall, the pallet is split into two, with the pallets then labelled A and B.
There is one pallet per constituency for each type of election, meaning each constituency will receive a minimum of six pallets.
“If they receive any pallet number that is not for their constituency (the IEBC officials) will not open the pallet,” said Mr Ganapathy.
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The pallets with the presidential election ballot papers will be transported to Nairobi on two chartered cargo planes on July 31 and August 1.
Another plane will bring in the ballot papers for the MCA elections on July 31.
Papers for the first 30 counties will be in one plane and those for the rest in the second one.
Waste paper from the project is being destroyed on site by Shredex, an American company.
The waste is shredded into two-millimetre pieces and will be recycled.
On the side of the IEBC, said Roselyn Akombe, one of the IEBC commissioners on the delegation, information on the content of the pallets is being included in the training of the polling officials.
She said even the forms to be filled with the results are customised to the polling stations.
While the other members of the delegation were generally satisfied with the arrangements, Bill Kagai, who represented the Ekuru Aukot’s Third Way Alliance, raised some issues.
He said his important concern was that “we did not count the ballot papers, note the serial numbers of each constituency and we were not shown all the pallets ready for export.”
“This mission is not about the technology of printing but that the number of ballots printed should be the number of ballots that come to Nairobi. It’s an audit, not an observation,” he said.
Mr Kagai caused some consternation within the team when he took a photo of the ballot paper and shared it with his bosses in Nairobi, contrary to the agreement with the printers, his colleagues on the mission and the IEBC officials.
He, however, stuck to his guns on the basis that he was working for his party leader, Dr Aukot, and that the concerns expressed were those of the party, with whom he had exchanged notes on his observations.
Commissioners Paul Kurgat and Ms Akombe later said that all the parties would be given a schedule of the contents of each pallet and a list of the number of ballot papers per polling station.