Did MPs in Legal Affairs team create wards for themselves?

Saturday February 25 2012

Photos/FILE  From Left: Mr Abdikadir Mohammed (Mandera Central), Olago Aluoch (Kisumu Town West), Sofia Abdi Noor (nominated), Ababu Namwamba (Budalang’i), Millie Odhiambo (nominated) and Isaac Ruto (Chepalungu).

Photos/FILE From Left: Mr Abdikadir Mohammed (Mandera Central), Olago Aluoch (Kisumu Town West), Sofia Abdi Noor (nominated), Ababu Namwamba (Budalang’i), Millie Odhiambo (nominated) and Isaac Ruto (Chepalungu). 

By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU [email protected]

MPs in the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee will on Tuesday face questions in Parliament over their apparent push to skew the review of electoral boundaries in their favour.

Mr Abdikadir Mohammed (Mandera Central), Isaac Ruto (Chepalungu), Sofia Abdi Noor (nominated), Millie Odhiambo (nominated), Ababu Namwamba (Budalang’i) and Olago Aluoch (Kisumu Town West) will have to respond to accusations of “manipulating the work of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission” to serve their interests.

These six MPs have made their colleagues uneasy about the delimitation exercise.

“Members are at war that the committee, whose role should just be to look and table “yes” or “no” to the report from the IEBC, are already changing the boundaries,” Mr Jakoyo Midiwo (Gem) told his colleagues on Wednesday as he blew the lid off in the work of the committee.

A look at the complaints that the MPs raised informally with the committee members, to which the Sunday Nation is privy, shows that the disgruntled MPs have a case.

Ms Noor, a nominated MP, comes from Ijara Constituency in Garissa County. She wields clout in the area as the executive chairperson of ODM.

So, the fact that the committee has proposed four new wards for Ijara – a constituency with just 92,663 people and an area of 9,521 square kilometres – is an obvious pointer.

The House team got seven petitions from Ijara. All the seven wanted extra wards, an extra constituency, and they wanted the border between Garissa and Tana River counties to be the Tana River.

Save for the extra constituency, which under the law the House committee has no powers to grant, the other requests, including the one on county borders, were granted.

“In view of other constitutional criteria, including community of interest, geographical features, means of communication and land mass, Ijara should be considered for extra wards on a special case basis,” the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee declared in its report scheduled for debate on Tuesday.

The revocation of the three-mile strip on the border between Garissa and Tana River is also one of the curious proposals that the committee has made.

Ms Noor is on record as pushing for this, and the declaration in the committee report that “The western border of Ijara Constituency shall be the Tana River” has her fingerprints all over it.

Neighbouring Fafi is a larger constituency both in population (3,000 more people than Ijara) and area (surpassing Ijara by 6,000 square kilometres), but it wasn’t considered for an extra ward. All the MPs proposed was a “realignment of ward boundaries”.

Mr Ruto of Chepalungu in Bomet County also has to tell his colleagues why his constituency deserved an extra ward in Sigor Division “to cater for municipality and ensure all wards have a balanced population”.

Chepalungu has 163,833 people. The IEBC divided it into five wards.

The rationale for an extra ward, when the current five have a population threshold well within the legal limits that the IEBC used, is a query that Mr Ruto may find hard to answer.

But Mr Ruto told the Sunday Nation that there was no malfeasance in the way the committee had done its job.

“We could not increase the number of constituencies because the Constitution puts a limit at 290. (DOWNLOAD: Preliminary Report of The Proposed Boundaries of Constituencies)

“Therefore, we decided that because it is not yet law to have the wards limited to 1,450; it was only fair for us to add 60 more wards.

“It is upon the IEBC to decide where this would go, but we have recommended that the redistribution be based on the submissions we got from the public,” he said at Parliament Buildings after the questions emerged.

The MPs thus raised the number of wards across the country to 1,510. The MPs amended the County Governments Bill, 2012, to reflect this increase in the number of wards.

The 60 new county wards will be redistributed in 56 constituencies across 28 counties.

Ms Millie Odhiambo also has to deal with Gwassi MP John Mbadi who believes that the push to “shift” some parts of Gwassi constituency to Mbita Constituency, both in Homa Bay County, was a political move.

Mr Mbadi told the Sunday Nation that Ms Odhiambo, “working with some people who had scribbled some things on foolscaps”, had recommended that the IEBC should “consider moving Ruma of Nyaboto and Nyadendi (Ruma Kaksingiri) to Lambwe in Suba North in consultation with the community”.

“That area has Ruma National Park. That is a key national resource. You can’t just take it away. I will not allow it.

“The problem is that Gwassi is predominantly Suba. And there are very few Suba in Mbita. But the solution is not to take more Subas to Mbita,” said Mr Mbadi.

Gwassi has a population of 103,054. Mbita has a population of 111,409. That the committee allowed the proposal to reduce the population of Gwassi, when it had not even met the constitutional threshold of a minimum population of a constituency, did not sit well with Mr Mbadi.

Sources within the committee said that Mr Mbadi and Ms Odhiambo clashed bitterly at the committee over the proposal.

Though Mr Mbadi is not a member of the Legal Affairs Committee, he is said to have attended to follow the proceedings.

“It was heated. It got personal. My biggest problem with her is that she had touched an area that was the bedrock of my political support. I can’t allow that,” said Mr Mbadi who, like Ms Odhiambo, is from the Suba community.

The two belong to ODM, but Mr Mbadi is elected, and Ms Odhiambo nominated.

Mr Namwamba of Budalang’i Constituency in Busia County, the de jure chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee, also got two new wards, to add to the three that the IEBC had allocated to the area.

“Budalang’i has special challenges of geographical features (Yala Swamp and Lake Victoria Islands), and difficulty with means of communication.

“It should be considered for two additional wards to address this,” reads the proposal to the House team.

Were not considered

That alone saw the committee approve the proposal and grant a constituency with 66,723 people two additional wards.

The question is why the constituency qualified for a total of five wards, when Matayos and Funyula, with almost double the population and similar socio-economic challenges, were not considered.

In Kisumu Town West, whose MP Aluoch is a member of the committee, there was a curious proposal:

“Due to community interests, move the upper part of Kanyakwar sub-location from the railway line to go to Kisumu Central ward in Kisumu West Constituency.

“The lower part of Kanyakwar Sub-location comprising Obunga slums to remain in Railways Ward in Kisumu Central Constituency”.

That realignment, which looks like an expulsion of the slum dwellers from his constituency, was approved.

In Mandera, there is a call to have Wargadud ward hived off from Mandera North to Mandera South and have Mandera South renamed Mandera Central – the constituency whose MP is Mr Mohammed, a member of the House team.

The committee noted its clout under the law and to instruct the IEBC to ensure the proposals from Parliament are taken on board.

“Pursuant to the provisions of the IEBC Act the Commission shall consider views received from the National Assembly and revise accordingly before the final publication in the Kenya Gazette,” the MPs noted in their report to Parliament.

While the IEBC is an independent commission, the MPs said that it had to exercise its views knowing that the House was watching.

That independence, they said, should be limited to interference and direction by other State organs, but Parliament had automatic leeway for oversight.

“Commissions are not independent unto themselves. They are not in a vacuum. The people of Kenya were giving their views.

“Were they independent of those views? No! On the issue of Parliament and the commissions, it is important to note that the commissions are State organs.

“They are not raia. They are paid out of the State coffers. They are appointed through a legal process. All State organs are subject to the oversight of Parliament. That is the Constitution,” said Mr Mohammed as the controversy raged in the House.

The committee received 500 petitions from the public. Tuesday is the last day for Parliament to review the report of the IEBC and that of the Legal Affairs Committee.