Idea to change constitution to add jobs lacks imagination

Saturday March 4 2017

Newly-sworn-in President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) holds a copy of the Constitution that outgoing President Mwai Kibaki (centre) handed to him during the former's inauguration at Moi International Sports Centre in Nairobi on April 9, 2013. PHOTO | EMMA NZIOKA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Newly-sworn-in President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) holds a copy of the Constitution after outgoing President Mwai Kibaki (centre) had handed to him during the former's inauguration at Moi International Sports Centre in Nairobi on April 9, 2013. PHOTO | EMMA NZIOKA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By KWENDO OPANGA
More by this Author

It is distressing that the governing Jubilee Alliance and emergent rival National Super Alliance (Nasa) would contemplate changing the Constitution to create political offices. On the one hand, Nasa, a coalition in need of a big tent, would like the Constitution changed to introduce offices to accommodate all its leading lights.

Jubilee strategists, on the other, reveal late in term that the party has neither run an inclusive government nor grown its support. They, therefore, advise their principals that campaigning for new jobs of prime minister and two deputy presidents should win Jubilee new support and victory in August’s General Election.

Obviously, neither side has given serious thought to why the basic law is difficult to amend or why it was fought and won for Wanjiku. The framers made it difficult to amend the Constitution because from 1964, when Kenya became a republic, it was changed umpteen times. Why? To concentrate power and decision-making in the presidency and resources at the centre.

By the time demand for a new constitution gathered pace in 1990, the basic law was both tattered and a dictator’s charter. It was battered because in 1964 it was easy for Parliament to amend the Constitution to make it easy to change the document.

So in 1965, Members of Parliament (MPs) reduced the threshold for amending the Constitution by the Senate from 90 per cent to 65 per cent and from 75 per cent to 65 per cent for the National Assembly. In 1966, the Senate, too, went. But the acme of this infamy came in 1982.

SINGLE-PARTY STATE

Parliament turned Kenya into a single-party state by law after a grand debate that lasted the whole of 45 minutes. The framers of the 2010 Constitution, therefore, factored referenda into the process of changing it to reinforce the people’s (Wanjiku’s) ownership of the document.

Their message was clear: never again would the Executive, Legislature and political class amend the basic law at whim or without the people’s say-so. The framers also made it difficult to change the Constitution because they wanted it, and the institutions it created, to stand the test of time.

It was with good reason. The politicians, most of them now in Jubilee, rejected the premier’s job at the failed Bomas constitution-making conference in 2005, grudgingly supported it in 2008, refused it outright in 2010 and celebrated its demise in 2013. Now they want it back.

But, while I fear their suggested change is the thin end of the wedge, I do not dismiss all amend-the-constitution calls as bereft of merit. I argued here on December 5, 2015 that five years after its promulgation, Kenyans needed to discuss what parts needed amending.

I hold that the Constitution burdens Kenyans with too much government and representation, thereby saddling the taxpayer with a massive public payroll. This is compounded by wanton wastage in governments. These are the issues Jubilee and Nasa should be canvassing.

STAGE SET

The stage has already been set. Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria’s Punda Amechoka (the Donkey is Tired), and Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto’s Pesa Mashinani (Money for Grassroots) petitions, respectively, address the public wage bill and inclusivity.

But Jubilee and Nasa strategists are profoundly wrong when they equate creation of political posts to inclusivity. Herewith some factors that help determine inclusivity: Reduction of poverty, equality of opportunities, access to resources, access to basic services, employment and participation in decision-making.

Streamlined for purpose, well managed devolution offers Kenyans confluence of opportunity and inclusivity. Devolution was, after all, created to empower the millions at the periphery, and rid them of poverty and dependence on the centre. This cannot be said for Jubilee’s and Nasa’s apparatchiks.

Unfortunately, if Jubilee and Nasa see the Constitution as a tool for creating jobs for politicians, they cannot possibly disagree on much. Yet if they are not different from each other, Kenyans should not be asked to choose between them in August.

If Nasa is the alternative to Jubilee, it should change cause and course and position itself as a defender of the basic law and only suggest changes that are people-centred and promote inclusivity. Therefore, ownership, protection and improvement of devolution should be Nasa-occupied territories.

Nasa should, using ideas, facts and examples, run Jubilee ragged on promise versus delivery, corruption and wastage, and discriminatory job sharing policy. And, by comparison, it should illustrate why it regards its policies the reason for change.