The Referendum Bill, 2020, was officially introduced in the National Assembly yesterday afternoon.
This happened hours after President Uhuru Kenyatta gave the clearest indication that the country may be headed for a plebiscite later this year.
The Bill, which proposes measures to bridge the existing legal and constitutional gaps for conducting a referendum, is an effort of the House Committee on Constitution Implementation Oversight and was tabled by the committee’s chairman and Ndaragua MP Jeremiah Kioni.
The tabling of the Bill paved the way for House Speaker Justin Muturi to refer it back to the committee for public participation, which will culminate in the presentation of a report to the House for debate.
Although the Bill is pushing to have a referendum held on the same day as the 2022 General Election, it is open for amendments during the third reading stage.
According to the Constitution, a general election is to be held on the second Tuesday of August every election year, meaning that the next election is due on August 9, 2022.
Mr Kioni argues that the intention of having the referendum and the election held on the same day is “to minimise unnecessary costs”.
“If we were to have a referendum now, it will cost us a lot of money that the country does not have,” Mr Kioni says.
The tabling of the Bill comes as President Kenyatta hinted a referendum is inevitable during the 57th Madaraka Day address to the country at State House on Monday, though he did not say how soon the plebiscite will come.
“The constitutional moment I discern is one that will bring an end to the senseless cycles of violence we have experienced in every election since 1992,” President Kenyatta said.
He added: “We cannot re-imagine our nationhood without changing our political architecture. And we cannot change this architecture without re-engineering our Constitution.”
With the purging of errant members in the parliamentary leadership and its committees, it is expected that it will be smooth sailing for the Bill. Once passed by the National Assembly, it will be sent to the Senate for concurrence as required by the Constitution.
ODM leader Raila Odinga last month said the country will have a referendum before the year ends.
“The drafting of the final Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) document is at an advanced stage. We want all the issues raised by the women leaders captured in the final report,” Mr Odinga said on May 20, 2020, at his Capitol Hill office when he met a group of women leaders.
Public Service and Gender Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia led other women leaders to the meeting. They were Governors Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga) and Charity Ngilu (Kitui), and Woman Reps Florence Mutua (Busia) and Rosa Buyu (Kisumu).
“Women need to be included in decision making as well as protection from gender violence. We want the issues that affect women captured in the BBI document, so that there is equality and equity,” Prof Kobia said after the meeting.
The 14-member BBI steering committee chaired by Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji is expected to recommend which issues of the BBI’s 14-point agenda should be dealt with through policy, administratively, by Parliament and which ones should go to the referendum.
The BBI report was launched by President Kenyatta on November 27, 2019.
To trigger a referendum, the motion needs to be supported by at least 1 million signatures of registered voters across the country.
Currently, Article 257 of the Constitution provides for amendments through a popular initiative but has gaps.
For instance, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission verifies referendum signatures but on its whims.
This has led to uncertainty among interested parties, though Mr Kioni says this will now end with the enactment of the Bill: “If enacted, it will guide how IEBC verifies signatures.”
There is also a lack of clarity on the voting threshold when it is taken to the county assemblies for consideration.
“The question has always been whether it should be adopted by a simple or super majority. There must be clear outcomes from the county assemblies,” the Ndaragwa MP said.
The 2010 referendum process was a success because it was guided by the Constitution of Kenya Review Act that steered the processes overseen by the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission.