The referendum drums beats have been rolled; and the players are gun-blazing setting the stage for a bruising battle to amend the current constitution.
Since its promulgation in 2010, there have been several amendments attempts; both by popular initiatives, parliamentary and consultative forums. In the last four years alone, there have been 13 attempts to change the law.
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But,it is the latest two initiatives; the Building Bridges Initiative and Punguza Mizigo (reduce burden) bill drum beats have morphed into emotive issue threatening to tear the country in the middle.
It is the historic symbolic handshake in March last year between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga that birthed the former initiative whose role was to recommend solutions to nine challenges facing the country, including corruption, divisive politics and inclusivity.
On the other hand, Punguza Mizigo (reduce burden) bill drafted by Third Way Alliance Party boss Dr Ekuru Aukot after losing the 2017 general elections and came a distant fourth, seeks to reduce the number of political leaders or representatives in parliament and government expenditure in general.
For starters, it is not the first time frantic attempts are being made to change the constitution, Kenyans still remember the Okoa Kenya and Pesa Mashinani draft bills. However, they never saw the light of the day!
But even before BBI team finalizes its two months retreat to write a report, it appears the initiative’s support among government ministries has taken a new direction if pronouncement by the Head of Public Service is anything to go by.
And this was laid bare, when head of public service Joseph Kinyua, in a circular addressed to all Cabinet Secretaries and the Attorney General, lists support for BBI among key areas ministries, departments and agencies will have their performance evaluated.
The big question has always been; what really can the two documents borrow from each other? Political pundits believe each document has their own strengths and weaknesses!
On the flip side the BBI recommendations continues to meet backlash from several quarters. Uwazi Consortium-a civil society group in their latest report has poked holes on the legality and mode of the initiative’s operation noting the nine points it was to address are duties allocated to other state agencies. And to them, the taskforce “could be draining taxpayers’ money with an already decided outcome”.
While BBI wound up its county visits recently; the Punguza Mizigo has hit the counties running to collect views from the Members of County Assembly. Although he has received hostility from two counties, Nyeri and Siaya, he recently got a reprieve from Uasin Gishu County after they passed the draft.
Aukot’s next move is to get 24 devolved units to pass the document before he presents it in parliament for scrutiny. As it stands and going by the numerous factions the two documents have caused nationally-the Punguza Mizigo is deemed to smoothly sail to the floor of the House. What happens at the house is a “wait-and-see affair”.
To some, it is “a populist document” with great ideas to fix political representations which has been ailing East Africa’s largest economy for the longest period. But for others, it is ‘a calculated move’ to render the soon-to-launched BBI findings null and void. In fact, some experts believe, it is not practical to address leadership debacle through a referendum.
Whether an ‘elitist or saviour document’ as the draft bill by Aukot has been termed in political quarters, one thing is evident; it is a document woven by an authority and in-depth knowledge on constitutional matters. And the big question among political pundits is always, “Is Aukot’s draft amendment bill, a threat for BBI process?
Aukot’s proposal seeks to reduce parliamentary expenditures from Sh36.8 billion to Sh5 billion per year, reduce the number of MPs from 416 to 147. Abolishing position of deputy governor and nominations of MCAs and senate.
But it is Aukot’s intention to do away with constituencies and have 94 MPs elected from each county (47 women and 47 men), that has irked opponents, with the biggest question lying on which criteria will be used in dissolving the constituencies and the people willing to dissolve their various constituencies?
The BBI taskforce wishes to create the position of Prime Minister, reduction of members of the August House, scrapping nominated positions and women representative’s seats. Other proposals that top the taskforce’s agenda include a powerful office of the official Opposition leader and an addition of a third tier of devolution also featured prominently in the views presented to the team.
But all is not lost. As a country, we need to reflect what is good in Aukot’s draft bill and BBI then engage the citizens on those fronts and later form a referendum question for citizens to vote on. “We should not mix the level of representation to the level of debt burden” said Amani National Congress Leader Musalia Mudavadi.
And so, as it stands, the BBI has a herculean task convincing ‘wanjiku-ordinary Kenyans’ that its yet-to-be-released recommendations are better than Aukot’s.