Why referendum is only route for proposals in BBI draft

Thursday, February 11th, 2021 00:00 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta receives the BBI report from the taskforce vice chair Adams Oloo at Kisii State Lodge on Wednesday. With them is ODM party leader Raila Odinga. Photo/PD/GERALD ITHANA

Fredrick Okango       

Since the launch of the BBI report and subsequently the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020, some political pundits, legal scholars, leaders and academicians, have argued that the draft bill may not require approval and enactment through a referendum.

The Constitution is explicit that a proposed amendment shall be enacted and approved by a referendum, if the amendment in a Bill relates to the supremacy of the Constitution; territory of Kenya; the sovereignty of the people, the national values and principles of governance; the Bill of Rights; the term of office of the President; the independence of the Judiciary and the commissions and independent offices to which Chapter 15 applies; the functions of Parliament; the objects, principles and structure of devolved government or the provisions of  Chapter sixteen of the Constitution.

In my humble opinion,  this is how BBI proposed amendments relates to the matters that shall require a referendum for approval.

Bill of Rights: Any amendment to the Constitution that relates to the Bill of Rights shall proceed  to a referendum.

Clause 5 of the Bill proposes to amend Article 31 (Privacy) to incorporate the right for the protection of personal data of citizens as a Bill of Rights.

This amendment has a direct connection with the Bill of Rights as provided for in Chapter Four of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 and shall require a plebiscite to approve.

The national values and principles of governance: BBI proposals have largely  incorporated  aspects of national values and principles of governance.

The bill proposes a raft of amendments that relate to a sustainable economic system, that shall guarantee sustainable development, responsibility of citizens that cultivate national unity, participation of people in their governance, political inclusiveness in the national Executive and equity in resources distribution at the county and national level. 

These amendments must go to a referendum for them to be approved.

The independence of the Judiciary and the commissions and independent offices to which Chapter 15 applies:  Clause 9 of the Bill proposes to amend Article 88 (Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission) which is a constitutional commission in Chapter 15 to bar persons who have, within five years preceding an election, held office or stood for election as President, Deputy President, county governor or a Member of Parliament from being members of the Commission. 

The amendment in Article 250 (Composition, appointment and terms of office) also proposes to alter the composition of all the constitutional commissions, by proposing the maximum number of commissioners to be seven and not nine as currently constituted.

The amendment in Article 248 (Application of Chapter) proposes to include the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, as part of independent office under Chapter 15 of the Constitution.

Clause 44 of the Bill proposes to establish in a new Article 172A (The Office of the Judiciary Ombudsman) in the Constitution, which shall be responsible for handling complaints on the judicial process from the members of the public.

Clause 55 of the Bill proposes to amend Article 215 (Commission on Revenue Allocation) to reduce the number of members nominated by political parties represented in the Senate from five to two, so as to balance the representation from the two Houses. 

These amendments relate to  constitutional commissions as established in Chapter 15 and therefore must be approved by the people through a referendum.

The objects, principles and structure of devolved government: Clause 54 of BBI draft Bill, proposes to amend  the structure of devolved government by establishing Ward Development Fund (WDF) in Article 207A, which shall be used as the primary unit of accelerated development.

The WDF is proposed to comprise at least five per cent of all the county government’s revenue in each financial year and ensure equitable distribution and development in the wards.

The amendment further increases the percentage of funds allocated to county governments from at least 15 per cent to35 per cent, so as to strengthen devolution and ensure that county governments have adequate funds to carry out their operations and meet the objectives of devolution.

This amendment largely relates to  the structure of devolution and therefore must go to the people for approval in a referendum.

With the above  proposed amendments, approval through a referendum is the  only route, after it gets the nod of the majority of the county assemblies. — The writer is a  political consultant and the Secretary General of  Thirdway Alliance Kenya.

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