MPs poised for heated debate over BBI report

Tuesday, May 4th, 2021 00:00 |

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Hillary Mageka and Mercy Mwai 

MPs were yesterday sharply divided over whether or not to amend the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) Bill, setting the stage for heated debate in the two Houses this afternoon.

Sources told People Daily there was a near consensus among senators that Parliament needs to not only correct errors in the Bill, but also amend it.

But National Assembly Minority Whip, Junet Mohamed, dismissed Senate’s attempts to initiate amendments to the Bill, saying a document introduced to the House through a popular initiative cannot be altered. 

“How can Speaker Kenneth Lusaka allow such amendments; you cannot amend a Bill brought to the House through a popular initiative route,” Junet said yesterday.

Kangema MP Muturi Kigano, who co-chaired the joint Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC) that considered the Bill termed the Senate bid an exercise in futility.   

Kigano warned that should the Senate amend its Bill and the National Assembly does not, only the latter would be subjected to a referendum.“If they amend the Bill then it ceases being a Wanjiku Bill.

If you at any time try to introduce any changes to the Bill, then you are altering its contents. Whatever the Senate is contemplating is an exercise in futility,” he said.

Leader of Minority in the National Assembly, John Mbadi, also dismissed attempts by senators to introduce amendments to the Bill, saying their attempts will not yield any fruits. 

He maintained that no legislator allied to the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) in the Senate or National Assembly would dare bring any amendments, as this would be going against party position.

“In the National Assembly there will be no amendments as this is illegal; and impossible... you can’t amend the Bill.

In the Senate, too, I don’t think. The Speaker cannot approve that because this is a Bill brought through a popular initiative.

In any case, speaking on behalf of ODM, I don’t think there is anybody from ODM who will go ahead and bring amendments as this is contrary to the party position that this Bill is passed in its current form,” he said.

Popular initiative

 On his part, Nyamira Senator Okong’o Omogeni, who co-chaired the JLAC committee with Kigano, urged President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga to urgently convene an Inter-Party Parliamentary Group style meeting to salvage their pet project from “underhand dealings and opposition from enemies within and without”.

“I urge the two principals to convene an IPPG-like meeting to resolve a dispute around two key areas, including the distribution of constituencies and tenure of judges that have been controversial but not been adequately highlighted in the media,” Omogeni told People Daily yesterday.

He warned that the two issues were a ticking time bomb that could make or break the BBI process.

He accused Junet of being behind a scheme to scuttle the BBI process by influencing the allocation of 70 constituencies to President Uhuru’s strongholds at the expense of Raila’s backyard.

“Junet is the enemy within. You may remember that the BBI report had proposed additional and multiple constituencies but the document they validated and signed before forwarding to the electoral agency changed the proposal and denied Raila’s backyard, especially in Siaya, Kisii, Migori and the coastal region,” the senator claimed.

He added: “While the BBI was meant to unite the country, I am fearful that it may end up dividing the country because a section of Kenyans will be deprived of their fair share of constituencies.” 

It also emerged that cracks in Raila’s inner camp are widening as more senators joined the push to have the Bill amended.

We established that senior members of the Senate had closed ranks to amend the document.

The group, comprising Leader of Minority in the Senate James Orengo and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula, argues that passing the Bill in its current form will amount to reducing the House to a ceremonial outfit and exposing it to abuse by the Executive and other outside forces.

They cited Article 1(2) of the Constitution, which states: “The people may exercise their sovereign power either directly or through their democratically elected representatives.”

They further cited Article 94(3) that says: “Parliament may consider and pass amendments to this Constitution, and alter county boundaries as provided for in this Constitution.” 

Orengo said in an interview yesterday: “It says that Parliament may amend but the same provision says the President, county assembly or courts cannot.

This provision in very clear words is not for cosmetic value that Parliament may consider and pass amendments to this Constitution.” 

 “I want to convince my colleagues in the Senate and the National Assembly that the two institutions are not ceremonial.

We are not here to rubberstamp. We are here to consider just like what Article 94 of the Constitution says.

We consider and pass,” the Siaya Senator said, explaining, “the Constitution does not say we ‘pass’. It says, ‘we consider and pass’.”

Wetang’ula voiced similar sentiments, saying the framers of the Constitution could not have intended to make Parliament either a conveyor belt or a rubber stamp.

Resist temptation

“It cannot be. We should unset ourselves in our thinking, dissect this document, so that we give the people of Kenya something that is important and helps this country move forward,” the senator said.

 “I urge the leadership, both the Senate Majority Leader and Minority Leader to resist any temptation, act or omission that entrenches the feeling that we are a rubberstamp,” he added.

Those pushing for amendment include Senators Irungu Kang’ata (Murang’a), Enock Wambua (Kitui), Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo Marakwet), Samson Cherargei (Nandi) and Johnson Sakaja (Nairobi), among others.

The legislators have listed the areas they intend to amend in the Bill, including the role of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and distribution of  70 constituencies and introduction of the Judicial Ombudsman position.

“Parliament does not exist in vain and it is not a lottery. We are definitely going to have a say, we will have several amendments against the Constitution Amendment Bill, 2020,” Cherargei said, revealing that Senators have lined up several amendments.

Wambua is proposing to delete the clause creating a Judicial Ombudsman appointed by the Executive. 

Kang’ata is proposing to delete any amendment whose net effect is to expand the Senate and the National Assembly by way of nominated MPs.

He is also proposing to amend Schedule Two of the Bill to give two additional constituencies to Murang’a and Nyeri counties with an extra constituency allocated to Meru, Embu, Kirinyaga, Laikipia and Tharaka Nithi counties.

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