Referendum: The road chosen

After the purge in Jubilee Party and signing of political coalitions that has guaranteed them numbers, President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga are said to be considering pushing the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) proposals through Parliament and not the long route of collecting one million signatures and getting endorsement of county assemblies for a referendum.

Politicians allied to the two leaders are also pushing for the BBI to go through the parliamentary route of altering the Constitution to hasten the planned plebiscite.

This will mean the submission of a draft Bill directly to Parliament, bypassing the lengthy process of collection and verification of one million signatures as well as the need to have the 47 county assemblies debate it, and at least 24 pass it to reach the next stage.


This, those for the idea argue, will not only reduce the time needed to get to the referendum stage, but also reduce the political temperatures that would otherwise boil over in the popular initiative that Mr Odinga had earlier suggested was the best route.

Proponents of this new route cite the reorganisation of the parliamentary leadership as well as critical House committees as the beginning of a process to smooth the way for the BBI report.

While the parliamentary initiative will save the planners the time it would have taken for the signature collection and the regional assemblies’ nod, Kenyans will still be given a chance to decide in a referendum if the proposals require one.

The Constitution demands a referendum for a change to the supreme law on any issue relating to the terms of office of the President, functions of Parliament, the independence of the Judiciary, supremacy of the Constitution, the territory of Kenya, the sovereignty of her people, national values, the Bill of Rights, as well as the objects, principles and structure of the devolved government.

The steering committee, led by Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji, had in March suggested that it could present its report together with a draft referendum Bill for those sections of their proposals that would need the plebiscite.

Monday, National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi said the ongoing purge of leadership in Parliament and committees was meant to ensure that anybody deemed to be a saboteur “gives way to those willing to cooperate.”

“We are aligning the parliamentary leadership and committees to the task ahead of us, which is the BBI. We want a Parliament that is going to deliver, not sabotage the process,” he said.


Implementation of the report, Mr Mbadi pointed out, will be multi-faceted as some areas will require a referendum. Other changes will be effected through Parliament while others will be dealt with administratively through an Executive Order.

Minority Whip Junet Mohamed said the options on implementation of the BBI report were open and it is upon President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga to choose which method they want to use.

“The proponents of the initiative are yet to decide which way we will go. But we’re ready for any route whether it’s the popular initiative way or the parliamentary way because now we have the two-thirds in Parliament,” Mr Mohamed said.

President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party has signed post-election agreements with Gideon Moi’s Kanu, Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper, and Isaac Ruto’s Chama Cha Mashinani — shoring up its numbers in Parliament with the continued inroads into Deputy President William Ruto’s support in the House expected to easily get close to the two-thirds majority.

The teams, which have been in constant consultation, will meet later this week to finalise the new list of committee members with Amos Kimunya, the newly-installed National Assembly Majority Leader.

Mr Mohamed pointed out that the purge currently ongoing in Parliament is meant to put the right ‘generals’ in place ahead of the coming task.


Cherang’any MP Joshua Kutuny, who is allied to President Kenyatta, said the reorganisation in Parliament was just the beginning of a smooth sailing for the President’s agenda.

“Since Parliament has been reorganised and now we have people who are keen on helping the President accomplish his agenda, I don’t see the need for the long process to collect signatures when there is general consensus in the House,” Mr Kutuny said.

Some of the committees crucial to the smooth implementation of a referendum are the Justice and Legal Affairs and the Budget and Appropriations Committees.

The legal committee — in whose hands a draft Bill will be sent in case of the parliamentary process — is crucial.

Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo, who was in the Committee of Experts that drafted the 2010 Constitution, is poised to take over the chairmanship of the committee from Ruto-leaning William Cheptumo (Baringo North).

The House last week agreed to extend the period of filling the 16 positions left vacant from seven days as stipulated in the Standing Orders to 30 days.

The move is aimed at giving both the majority and minority sides more time for consultations in placing their members to the committees.

On the Budget committee, which was led by Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wah, sources indicated that Jubilee was not willing to let go owing to its crucial function in overseeing the budget-making process from formulation and approval to implementation.

The committee has powers to investigate, inquire into and report on all matters of co-ordination, control and national budget monitoring.

It also has powers to examine the Budget Policy Statement presented to the National Assembly, examine bills related to the national budget, including the appropriation bills and evaluate tax estimates, economic budgetary policies and programmes with direct budget outlays, making it a committee of interest to the Executive. It’s on the basis of this that the President felt the committee cannot be left under the leadership of Mr Ichung’wah who is a staunch Ruto ally.

In its November 2019 report, the Haji team wants the Prime Minister, who will be the head of government business and will manage the day-to-day activities of government, to be an elected MP appointed by the President with the approval of MPs, but with no additional salary or allowances.

There has been general agreement on retention of the President as Head of State and Government even with a prime minister in place. The increase of funds to the counties — with proposals ranging from 35 per cent by the BBI team to 50 per cent by Thirdway Alliance — has also been proposed.

There has also been general agreement in regard to the creation of the office of prime minister, with views differing on powers and place of such an office.

Spanner in the works

During the BBI validation hearings, National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi put a spanner in the works when he proposed that Kenyan voters be denied the right to directly elect their president and governors.

Instead, he proposed that Kenyans vote for political parties, with the winner in the different elections then nominating the President. In the governor seat, he proposed, parties should give names that will be vetted by the Senate.

The BBI team proposed the retention of the 47 counties, with Nairobi accorded a special city status, but it will continue having an elected governor.

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