Aukot’s Punguza Mizigo hits dead end

The passage of Punguza Mizigo Bill is increasingly looking remote, with a large number of counties yet to debate the proposed legislation.

With less than 20 days left to discuss and conclude debate, 39 county assemblies have not considered the Bill.

Interviews with the leadership of county assemblies suggest that only six devolved units are likely to pass it, bringing the number to seven after Uasin Gishu endorsed the Bill.

But this number falls short of the 24 required to introduce the Bill in Parliament.

Debate on the Bill has been derailed recently by the sudden decision by ward representatives to convene public hearings at the tail-end of a three-month constitutional timeline.

There is speculation that this is an attempt by the Bill’s opponents to run down the clock ahead of the October 15 deadline.

Among MCAs interviewed by The Standard yesterday, those in Nandi, Elgeyo Marakwet, Turkana, Kericho, Kilifi and Taita Taveta were optimistic that the Bill would be approved.

Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Nyamira, Siaya, Homa Bay and Bungoma counties have already rejected the Bill. The Bill proposes to have wards as the primary unit of development, reduce the number of MPs from 416 to 147 and have a single seven-year presidential term.

It also spells out tough anti-corruption measures.

Yesterday, Third Way Alliance party leader Ekuru Aukot blamed the Government for the challenges they were facing to have the Bill passed by counties.

Dr Aukot, who had cleared the initial hurdle of collecting more than 1 million signatures from registered voters, said his party had “swum” where the rest of the country’s political leaders had not.

This was in allusion to the stillborn Okoa Kenya initiative pushed by an opposition coalition linked to Raila Odinga.

The former presidential candidate declared that whatever the Bill’s outcome, he was glad he had galvanised public discourse around an important issue.

“I am actually glad that the State machinery and unorthodox ways, including bribery, are employed to fight the Bill. It means we are up to big things. It has also exposed a selfish political class that survives on the suffering of the majority poor,” Aukot said.

He castigated the country’s top political leadership, calling them selfish politicians opposed to solving the real problems that face Kenyans.

Nearly all the major political players have rejected his Bill in favour of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) that is being pushed by Raila and President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Sh100 million

“By passing this Bill, each ward could have received at least Sh100 million for development. But prominent people are bribing MCAs to reject the Bill. Why would any MP, governor, senator and even president be opposed to more development money going to the villages?” Aukot posed.

He said he had visited 23 counties and claimed that MCAs had confided in him that they were bribed to oppose the Bill.

“I am just on my way from Tharaka Nithi. I have taken them through what the Bill says. It is upon them to debate it. I am willing to visit up to five counties per day. We want money at the villages. That is the only way we can achieve true and meaningful inclusivity in Kenya,” Aukot said.

He accused senior politicians of opposing his quest, saying it was because they had no ideas how to develop the country. He said counties in Nyanza had refused to consider the Bill, adding that he would not waste time visiting the region.

“These politicians are only keen to retain power or create positions for themselves. These are political elites who use taxpayers’ money to bribe MCAs. But for us it is a big win. It shows that we have a good idea for the country and that is why Kenyans are discussing it. That is why politicians are fighting it because they don’t have big ideas.”

He thanked Kenyans who had donated to his campaign.

Kericho Assembly Majority Leader Hezron Ng’etich said the assembly was likely to pass the Bill during debate scheduled for October 8 after four sub-counties approved its passage during public hearings.

“Only two sub-counties of Bureti and Sigowet/Soin rejected the Bill while Belgut, Ainamoi, Kipkelion East and West approved its passage,” Mr Ngetich said.

In Nandi, Speaker Joshua Kiptoo said the Bill could easily get the backing of members.

“MCAs are excited about the Punguza Mizigo Bill because it will make the ward an accelerated unit of development and put them in charge of development funds,” Mr Kiptoo said.

He added: “The push for constitutional reforms is political. William (Deputy President William Ruto) has already caused damage to the BBI proposals and some counties would support Punguza Mizigo to oppose the BBI.”

Turkana Speaker Ekitela Lokaale said: “Ekuru Aukot is a local and there is excitement that the constitutional amendments are proposed by one of their own.”

In Elgeyo Marakwet, Deputy Speaker Christopher Chemosong said ward reps might unanimously pass the Bill. “Punguza Mizigo has provisions that favour ordinary citizens. BBI is likely to propose creation of more positions in Government and Kenyans don’t want that.”

Public participation

Kilifi Majority Leader Kadenge Mwathethe said most residents had endorsed the Bill, adding that it was good for the country.

“From the public participation exercise, most residents seem to like the Bill,” he said.

In Taita Taveta, Majority Leader Jason Tuja said the House would endorse the proposed Bill because it would increase the share of revenue to counties from the current 15 per cent to 35 per cent if passed.

But former member of the Committee of Experts Bobby Mkangi said it did not appear like Aukot would achieve his goal.

“It is not looking promising. It is an exercise that has faced challenges since it left the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

It went to the counties where party leaders have a big say. This has made Aukot’s strategy fall to the challenge of political dynamism,” Mkangi said.

The constitutional lawyer said even if counties failed to approve the Bill, it would have raised key issues that the country needed to debate.

“It is a Bill that resonates well with wananchi. But if it fails, we need to look at the possibility of not having a referendum Bill that can only be voted for or against. We need a strategy of voting for some provisions as well as rejecting those people are not happy with,” Mkangi said.

Lawyer Charles Kanjama said according to the Constitution, Aukot only has three options left. “He can go to court to seek extension of time and compel the county speakers to debate and vote for his Bill. He can also seek a political solution by talking to politicians to back him up, or wait for it to collapse and start afresh…though the exercise of collecting signatures takes time and money,” Mr Kanjama said.
Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu said Aukot’s Bill was “dead from day one”.

“He assumed he could take advantage of the fact that Kenyans tend to flow with sensational nice-sounding proposals even when the proposal has no substance,” Mr Wambugu said.

Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi said Aukot only had himself to blame for the Bill’s failure. “He embarked on an ill-conceived, directionless process. The Bill was dead on arrival and can’t see the light of the day. We have killed it because of impractical proposals”.

He added: “He is fighting politicians by proposing to reduce constituencies, wards and remove seats set aside for women. This is politics and we will fight him. He should be ready.”

The Bill is yet to be tabled before assemblies of Baringo, Nakuru, Narok and Bomet. Nakuru Leader of Majority Moses Ndung’u said MCAs were still “consulting”.

“This thing has divided members. There are those who are backing Punguza Mizigo and others who are now pro-Ugatuzi Initiative,” said Mr Ndung’u, referring to a new constitutional amendment plan recently unveiled by governors.

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