The rollout of a new generation currencies was headed for trouble last evening as leaders and lawyers faulted Central Bank of Kenya for attempting to demonetise the current legal tender.
They also say the inclusion of the image of Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta on the new notes is contrary to constitutional provisions.
CBK Governor Patrick Njoroge announced in a Friday gazette notice that the current Sh1,000 notes would be rendered useless in October.
And as constitutional experts debated whether the governor or the President have the authority to declare currency illegal, politicians latched onto the portrait issue and demanded a recall of the notes.
Critics argue that CBK does not have the authority to demonetise money as Kenya’s legal framework does not give it such powers.
They say while Article 231 (4) of the Constitution mandates CBK to issue currency, Section 34 of the Sixth Schedule says nothing can impair the validity of money already in circulation.
Inclusion of Mzee’s image on new notes angers politicians
But it is the political heat generated by the fiat that threatens to scuttle Dr Njoroge’s plans.
Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader James Orengo, National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi and Orange Democratic Movement Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna said the Constitution prohibits the use of a human face on the currency.
The ODM politicians accused unnamed individuals of sneaking the face of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta on the new notes.
The notes have an image of Kenyatta International Convention Centre at the back, complete with the imposing statue of Mzee.
While lauding the new notes, Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi also “regretted the clandestine incorporation” of the portrait of Mzee Kenyatta, “which violates the law”.
The Constitution says banknotes and coins may bear images that depict or symbolise Kenya or an aspect of the country, but shall not bear the portrait of an individual.
The new Sh50, Sh100, Sh200, Sh500 and Sh1,000 notes were published in the Kenya Gazette of May 31 but unveiled in Narok County a day later by President Kenyatta as the country marked 56 years of internal self-rule.
They have since been officially released into the market and, as they gain circulation, the government is planning to mop up the old currency.
But CBK could find itself between a rock and a hard place should the chorus of condemnation gather steam and head to the courts.
It started as the usual social media banter on Saturday soon after Mr Kenyatta unveiled the new notes, but by yesterday evening, it had moved from the deep abyss of the internet to the openness of barazas.
In Rongo, Mr Orengo was categorical that the notes are illegal, and said Kenyans should go to court to contest their circulation.
“They should ask where a human face has come from and how it has landed on the notes,” Senator Orengo said. As a lawyer, I’ll not keep quiet when this matter is argued in court,” he said.
Mr Orengo was in the company of several ODM lawmakers during a fundraiser for St Martin de Porres Catholic Church. He pleaded with the President, whom he called a friend, to follow the requirements of the Constitution on the issuance of the new currency.
Mr Mbadi said that although ODM supports the Head of State, its leaders are not afraid of correcting him when he makes a mistake.
“The new notes are unconstitutional,” he said.
“We cannot allow the violation of the law, which is very clear that the notes should not bear any human face. Someone cleverly decided to sneak in the face of Kenya’s first President.”
The Suba South MP said it’s possible to have an image of KICC without the statue of Jomo Kenyatta.
Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo, who helped write the 2010 Constitution, also faulted the new notes.
“Are we short of images that depict Kenya?” he asked before adding: “Thumbs down on this.”
The CBK decision caught many unawares and is expected to disrupt illicit financial flows.
Tax evaders, terrorism financiers, corrupt politicians and fraudulent businesspeople who fail to get the money into the financial system could end up stuck with billions of shillings that will become worthless in just months.
Some lawmakers in the ruling Jubilee party welcomed the decision to introduce new notes.
They were speaking at St Martin’s Church in Kahawa Wendani, Nairobi where Deputy President William Ruto attended a service.
The lawmakers called for the speedy implementation of the decision “so that the politics surrounding the currencies is put to rest”.
They said the directive would not affect donations to churches or prove right those accusing them of stashing sacks of notes in their homes and offices.
The Deputy President steered clear of the debate.
Reported by Ruth Mbula, Duncan Okoth, Mary Wambui, Lydia Ngugi and David Mwere