To amend or not? Legislators dilemma on BBI

Wednesday, March 24th, 2021 22:45 |
National Speaker Justin Muturi. Photo/SAMUEL KARIUKI

Mercy Mwai @wangumarci

The joint Justice and Legal Affairs Committee of the National Assembly and Senate has 10 days to table its report on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) Bill, Speaker Justin Muturi ordered yesterday as differences among legislators over the document played out on the floor of the House.

 Muturi told the committee that MPs will have no option but to start debate on the Bill on Thursday next week, whether or not the team will have tabled its report.

 “Let me tell you that I am aware of the status of the draft report of this committee.

I know that they have already embarked on report writing. However, let me tell you that you can call all manner of experts from heaven but you must table this report here,” he said.

 The speaker added: “Be as it may, I want to order that the Bill be in the Order paper for second reading on April 1.

This Bill will be debated with or without the report. I can assure you that on this day you will realise that this House has so many experts.” 

Extension of time

Muturi made the communication after Members of Parliament led by Minority Leader John Mbadi, Minority Whip Junet Mohammed and Kisumu Town West MP Olago Aluoch differed with their colleagues led by Aden Duale (Garissa Township), Otieno Kajwang’ (Ruaraka), Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu), David Sankok (Nominated), George Murugara (Tharaka) and Peter Kaluma (Homa Bay Town), whether there was need to extend the timelines for the committee, after a request by chairperson and Kangema MP Muturi Kigano.

 The committee sought the extension of time on grounds that they had hired a team of experts to advise them on contentious issues clustered under six thematic areas including the nature of the Bill, public participation and its extent, the way of processing the Bill, substantive and referendum issues and status of litigation in court touching on the Bill.

 Kigano’s request came after differences within the committee played out in the open over the proposal to increase the number of constituencies, the issue of whether legislators have powers to amend the Bill and the likelihood that the document could face legal hurdles should it be passed in its current form.

 Duale, who was among the first members to speak, attributed the delay in processing the Bill to differences within the committee over some contentious issues.

 “We want to know whether there is a problem in this committee; we are reading a lot and we are sure there are serious underlying issues. Please tell us what is going on,” he said.

Powers to amend

 MPs were split on whether Parliament had powers to amend the Bill after it had been ratified by county assemblies and subjected to public participation.

Kajwang’ said that Parliament’s role is not ceremonial and that MPs have powers to amend any Bill that comes to the House including the BBI one.

“What are you saying is ceremonial?  Parliament is not ceremonial. We have powers. Bring this thing before us we deal with it as the National Assembly.

And because of this, we should give this committee time to prepare a good report,” Kajwang’ said.

 Kaluma and Murugara, who are members of the committee, defended the request, saying they needed time to sort out some issues.

 “Mr Speaker, allow us only 14 days to deal with this issue so that we can bring a good report,” pleaded Kaluma.

 Ichung’wa said the House cannot be used like a conveyor belt as MPS should be given an opportunity to amend the Bill.

 But in response, Junet and Mbadi insisted that the committee ought not to be given any extension, as their work was to merely listen to the public give their views and cannot  introduce any amendments to the report.

 Mbadi said it was shocking that the joint committee is seeking to hire a team of experts yet the Bill is a product of popular initiative.

 “I am shocked that this joint committee is requesting for extra time to deal with a matter that has already been decided by Kenyans. 

There is no way this House can even change a comma to this Bill. The committee should stop putting this country in unnecessary disagreements.”

 “The message by the chair is good but it was poorly delivered; what we are saying is this matter is serious and historic and it can be a matter of litigation and that is why we are only asking for two weeks to deal with it.

This issue of experts, I am hearing about it for the first time here,” said Olago, a member of tehy committee.

 Debate on the matter started after Kigano sought extension of time to consider the Bill on grounds that they had sought help from a team of legal experts to guide them on some of the contentious issues.

Kigano, who was explaining the status of the report to the House, said that a sub-committee comprising himself, MPs Atiende Amollo (Rarieda), Jenniffer Shamala (Nominated) and Senators Okong’o O’Mogeni, James Orengo (Siaya) and Naomi Waqo (Nominated) had agreed to seek services of experts to guide them on “weighty constitutional” matters.

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