Uhuru, Raila lead journey towards new constitution
Eric Wainaina @EWainaina
President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga yesterday kicked off a journey that will culminate in radical changes to the 2010 Constitution through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
At exactly 12:17pm and 12:18pm, Raila and Uhuru, respectively, appended their signatures to what was dubbed as the BBI Bill, paving the way for a countrywide campaign to collect at least one million signatures for a referendum scheduled for around June next year.
The two Handshake partners used the event at Kenyatta International Convention Centre, Nairobi, to make a strong case for the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which contains a raft of proposals expected to radically change the country’s political landscape.
And for the first time, the President revealed that his decision to reach out to Raila for the Handshake was informed by intelligence reports that the country was tethering on the verge of collapse due to chaos and tension arising from the 2017 presidential contest between the two.
“Truth be told, we were on the verge of a divisiveness that would have deeply undermined our continuity, our unity, and our peace.
I can tell you, as your President who consumes first-hand information from a multitude of sources, if there had been no Handshake, this country would have been brought to its knees,” he said.
“The reckless aggressiveness by some, to the triumphant chest thumping, stonewalling by others, the Handshake stabilised the country and accorded us the opportunity to identify the reforms that can strengthen our unity, ensure inclusivity.”
The BBI project is calculated to address the nine-point agenda items that the two leaders identified as among the country’s most pressing issues, including divisive elections, political inclusion, corruption and lack of national ethos.
While Uhuru described collection of signatures as the last process for validating the BBI which he said was a bridge to peace and prosperity, Raila described it as the start of a new chapter in Kenya’s history.
The two leaders also used the occasion to dismantle arguments against the project which is a product of their March 2018 Handshake.
“We are opening a new chapter for the book we started writing in March 2018.
The chapters we have covered so far have been quite interesting and engaging but it is about to get even more interesting.
The chapter we open today, of collecting signatures, and then the next thing, going to the county assemblies, then to Parliament and finally to a referendum...
It’s a great time to be in Kenya to participate in making of history,” Raila said.
Bridge to peace
Immediately after the proposals were unveiled, Deputy President William Ruto, who was conspicuously missing at the event, repeated his push for consensus over the document to ensure a win-win situation.
“Even with the signature launch there is still a real chance at consensus for a non-divisive referendum that will give Kenyans the opportunity to express themselves without an us vs them, win vs lose contest. Unity is the strength needed to fight Covid-19 and organise the economy,” the DP said.
Others who appended their signatures to the document included Council of Governors chairman Wycliffe Oparanya, Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, Ford Kenya leaders Wafula Wamunyinyi and Moses Wetang’ula, Alfred Mutua of Maendeleo Chap Chap, Gideon Moi (Kanu), Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu and her Mombasa’s Hassan Joho.
National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed, who is the BBI national committee co-chair, said the presence of nearly 30 governors, national Speakers and leaders of both Houses of Parliament, was an indication the draft would be passed by county assemblies and MPs once the signatures are approved by the electoral commission.
The 43-page document has proposed radical changes to the 2010 Constitution that could dramatically alter the structure of the Executive, the Judiciary, roles and powers of the two Houses of Parliament, reconstitution of independent commissions and sharing of revenue in counties, including creating a Ward Development Fund.
Equally, the Bill recommends changes to composition of the Judicial Service Commission and creates a new office of the Judiciary Ombudsman as the public eye in the corridors of justice.
It has also proposed an expanded Executive that creates the posts of a Prime Minister and two deputies to ensure inclusion in national governance.
Ward Development Fund
“A person is eligible to be nominated as the Prime Minister if the person is an elected member of the National Assembly who is the leader of the largest party or coalition of parties,” says the Bill.
Raila rubbished claims that BBI was creating an imperial presidency, saying the proposed premier will be appointed by the President after approval by Parliament to which he or she will be accountable.
The former premier also defended the proposal that parties nominate commissioners to the electoral commission to ensure transparency and protect credibility of elections.
“Political parties are actors in elections. Them picking commissioners will ensure they counter-check each other.
No one is neutral. Even the Pope, if you give him a ballot, he will vote for someone,” the ODM leader told the gathering.
Raila pointed out that the 2002 elections, which were not disputed, were presided over by a commission that was composed of representatives of political parties: 10 from Kanu and a similar number from the Opposition.
He also defended the proposal for creation of the Ombudsman, saying the holder will help oversight judges.
The Bill creates 70 new constituencies in 28 counties which will be formed by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission after the Bill is enacted into a law.
“Within six months from the commencement date of this Act, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission shall, subject to subsection (2), determine the boundaries of the additional seventy constituencies created in Article 89 (1) using the criteria provided for in Articles 81 (d) and 87 (7),” reads the bill.
President Kenyatta said the Bill offers Kenyans an opportunity to strengthen the current Constitution which has been “needed for a long time” to enable them to deal with challenges the country has been grappling with, adding this was the reason he and Raila came together.