Reality of the bumpy road ahead for political reforms in the country is finally dawning even before the ink dries on the Building Bridges Initiative Report unveiled on Wednesday.
Among the pointers to a precarious journey ahead are demands by Opposition leader Raila Odinga that MPs be locked out of the process. This is likely to open a new battle front with allies of Deputy President William Ruto who are pushing for Parliament to take the lead in the reforms.
The battle revolves, among other issues, the creation of a Prime Minister’s post, a key pillar of the report. Yesterday, Raila said recommendations in the report should be subjected to a referendum and MPs kept away from the document.
Speaking during the opening of his new party offices in Lavington, Raila said: “The process must be people owned, it must not be taken to Parliament. It is the people to own the document.”
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His position was backed by more than 25 MPs drawn from from Jubilee, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), Wiper, Amani National Congress, Kanu and Economic Freedom Party.
Addressing the media in Parliament, the MPs threw their weight behind a people-driven process.
“We urge the President to set up an implementation committee to ensure this report now moves to the next step. This committee will flag the relevant issues that need amendment, so that Kenyans can start organising themselves on how to make the decisions that need to be made on each issue,” said the MPs in a statement read by Homa Bay Woman Rep Gladys Wanga.
At the heart of the matter are fears of a plot by allies of the DP to hijack and even kill the process in Parliament. They want a committee of experts to fine tune the product, before it is subjected to a referendum.
“The surest way to kill BBI is through Parliament, which has never managed to raise two-thirds of members to make any constitutional changes. A referendum does not need to be expensive,” said ODM chairman John Mbadi.
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Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu said the process should be owned by Kenyans.
“Let us allow Kenyans to read and own the process. We are asking the President to appoint an Implementation Committee of the BBI report,” said Wambugu.
Some of the DP’s allies, however, want the document taken over by MPs .
“We do not need a referendum, however, there are those hell-bent on the same. They want the referendum for the sake of having it. They want to take Kenyan to early elections. Why should we spend Sh30 billion on referendum when we have other pressing issues to be discussed?” asked Senate Majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen.
Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria said he supports a parliamentary reform process citing the 2016 reforms in the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission that removed the Issak Hassan led team.
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“Mr President, the people of Kenya have spoken. Their views are in the BBI report. All we now need is to form a bipartisan committee in line with the 2016 process. Remember in 2016 Raila Odinga wanted a Committee of Experts and you stood your ground in defence of the Constitution. Kindly do the same!” he said in a tweet.
Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika said “there is no need for a referendum as it has the potential of dividing the country.”
Other leaders like Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni asked Kenyans to be careful lest the document is lost.
“There are issues that can be implemented with goodwill and don’t need any debate. Others can be deal with through parliamentary initiative, while there are those that must be taken to a referendum. All these issue should be handled separately,” said Kioni who is also Chair of the National Assembly Constitutional Implementation Oversight committee.
Narok Senator Ledama Ole Kina said the document does not address the issues it set out to solve. “I will not support anything creating an imperial president. We came from a dictatorial government to democracy and now revert back there,” he said.
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Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua said it was not possible to tell whether people’s views had been adequately captured by the report.
“There was no real time media reporting like we had during the past constitutional review initiatives,” she said.
[Report by Wilfred Ayaga, Rawlings Otieno, Roselyne Obala, Moses Nyamori, Wainaina Ndung’u]
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