Voice of reason in law review

Friday August 6 2010

William Oeri | NATION Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Review chairman Mohammed Abdikadir

William Oeri | NATION Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Review chairman Mohammed Abdikadir  

By OLIVER MATHENGE

He was the bridge between the political class and the technical team as Kenya took another shot at putting in place a new constitution. In the last one-and-a-half years, he has become synonymous with the constitutional debate, often coming out as the voice of reason. Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Review chairman Mohammed Abdikadir spoke to ‘Saturday Nation’s’ OLIVER MATHENGE reflecting on this journey and outlining the challenges ahead.

Kenyans have now passed the new constitution. What have we as a people achieved? What are Kenyans celebrating?

This is a major milestone for this country. It is what can be described as the complete rebirth of the republic and a renewal of the nation. The real work starts now and we are at a good point to begin since we now have a homegrown framework foundation.

Was passing the constitution the easy part? Could you say that the implementation will be even more difficult?

You cannot really say that one part is easier than the other since this is a process. You cannot have implementation without first having passed the new constitution. There will definitely be challenges since we will be focusing on reforming various institutions and we may, therefore, face some resistance.

We put in place a system that was self-propelling and insulated from past mistakes that block the path to a new constitution. We now have timelines clearly in place and there are set deadlines to be achieved on the implementation. Most important, we have the public goodwill as has been reflected in the referendum.

What is expected of Parliament over the next two years? And is Parliament equal to the task of setting up mechanisms for the implementation of the new constitution?
Parliament bears the greater responsibility of ensuring that the new Constitution is implemented effectively. Parliament is expected to offer leadership for the process. It will also roll out a large number of Bills that are to aid in the implementation.

Parliament will also play a key role in setting up institutions including new commissions that must be put in place before some of the provisions of the new Constitution can be implemented.

One of the things Parliament has not been used to is the vetting process when the executive is making key appointments. Parliament did not, before now, have clear processes on how this is to be done.

I think, the fact that we have about 200 MPs who were on the ‘Yes’ side then Parliament will be up to the task. I am also heartened that everything we have asked Parliament to do during this process, it has done.

When can Kenyans expect action from Parliament in terms of the implementation of the new Constitution?

The constitution itself comes into effect once the President promulgates it or at the expiry of 14 days after the IIEC gazettes the results. Sections like the Bill of Rights come into effect immediately, some other parts will await new laws relating to them to be enacted and others will wait for the formation of some of the institutions prescribed in the Constitution.

We Kenyans, however, have to manage our expectations. Not everything will change immediately. We should not get disappointed. The implementation of the new Constitution is not like switching on the lights. It is more like putting on an iron box, which gradually heats.

How do you expect to handle disgruntled MPs who may move to derail the process of going forward?

Previously, we have had to bridge the ODM side and that of PNU. This was through focusing on the process instead of the political difference. And I think in the same way, we can focus on the process but we also have a good number of reform-minded MPs. In the event you get one bloc trying to derail the process, then you can turn to forces outside Parliament such as the civil society, religious groups, the public and the media.

One question in the mind of most Kenyans is whether provinces will continue to exist. And now that wards are electoral units of counties, are local governments dead?

We will no longer have provinces once we have the new county governments. For the purpose of the State, this department is no longer there. If the Office of the President feels it needs to have these units, then they have the right to do so. Even under the current constitution, the Provincial Administration does not exist but are established through a presidential decree.
You cannot put all this information in the constitution. We will have very many laws that will explain most of these issues.

Back to the review process, what have been the highs and lows in your leadership of this process? And at what point did you believe that the constitution dream was now a reality?

I can say that Naivasha was the most critical moment in the review process. All the three contentious issues identified by the Committee of Experts — the structure of the executive, representation and devolution and the transitional clauses — were cracked in Naivasha.

At Naivasha, we seemed to have cracked the political contention and what remained looked easier to handle. However, the emergence of the President, the Prime Minister and the Vice-President into the review process seemed to renew the political rivalry.

My election to chair the PSC was the highest mark in my career since I was a first-time MP. I have worked to make sure that I contribute in a marked way to the process. Politics within the coalition government has been one of the major challenges.