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BBI team divided on report delivery as deadline looms

Wednesday October 23 2019

Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) having a word ODM leader Raila Odinga at Windsor Hotel on April 17, 2019. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

JUSTUS OCHIENG'
By JUSTUS OCHIENG'
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As Thursday's deadline for the Building Bridges Initiative team to present its report to President Kenyatta and Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga approaches, questions about its findings abound.

On Tuesday, the team’s co-secretary Paul Mwangi said the report was ready for handover and the team was waiting for an appointment to present it to the two principals.

“We are yet to be advised on when to give it,” Mr Mwangi said while denying claims that there were divisions among task force members.

UNDER SCRUTINY

However, a member of the team said the report would be ready at the end of the month as it was “still under scrutiny and fine-tuning so that it reflects all the views obtained from Kenyans.”

Another member, Bishop Lawi Imathiu, was non-committal: “The report will be presented to President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga. Before that happens, I can’t comment on whether it’s ready or not. I can’t also discuss its contents, so let us wait until we hand it over,” he told the Nation yesterday in a telephone interview.

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Ms Florence Omose was categorical that the report was ready: “It’s ready. We expect to hand it over to the President. This will most likely happen later this week,” she told the Nation in an interview.

Tuesday, President Kenyatta was in Japan where he was among 170 world leaders who witnessed the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito.

The President is also expected to attend the Summit and Economic Forum Russia-Africa to be held in Sochi Wednesday and Thursday.

COLLECT VIEWS

The BBI team was formed to collect views from Kenyans and offer recommendations on how contentious issues should be addressed.

The issues included ethnic antagonism and competition, lack of national ethos, inclusivity, devolution, divisive elections, safety and security, and corruption. The terms of reference required the team to present the BBI findings Thursday.

In spite of the mixed signals from the team, the elephant in the room — and what has split the political class — is whether the country will be subjected to a vote on the proposals and what would be the ideal time for such a referendum.

On the one side of the divide is a group that feels a change in the law to reorganise government is the panacea to end electoral violence and tame debilitating corruption.

LEGACY

On the other side is a group that feels the vote is not the cure as all it will do is increase the size of government without addressing the underlying issues.

Tuesday, the Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee (CIOC) chairman Jeremiah Kioni cautioned against leaders approaching the constitutional review “antagonistically”.

He said that whereas a referendum was tenable before 2022, his team was of the view that it is conducted jointly with the General Election.

“We’re proposing that the referendum be done the same day with elections to manage the political climate and costs,” Mr Kioni, who is also the Ndaragwa MP, said. He went on: “The referendum can, however, be conducted before 2022 but that requires a lot of good management. I believe that if it doesn’t become antagonistic then it is doable.”

He said that his team was also coming up with referendum laws to clearly spell out the vital steps required.

BATTLE LINES

But already battle lines have been drawn between proponents of the drive and opponents.

Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei said the country’s focus should be on the President’s Big Four agenda to safeguard his legacy and not constitutional amendments.

“It’s unfortunate that this BBI and referendum call is getting unnecessary attention.

“My worry is that the Big 4 agenda, which is supposed to shape President Kenyatta’s legacy, is now in [a] shambles,” Mr Cherargei said.

He said the handshake between the President and Mr Odinga was political and had nothing to do with the unity of the country.

“If it was to allow President Kenyatta and Jubilee to deliver on the Big 4 agenda, we could have seen the results by now.

“But it looks like this handshake was more political than unity of the country. I think we no longer have the Big 4 agenda but have the Big 1 agenda which is the BBI,” Mr Cherargei said. He said that the country cannot afford a referendum at this time.

PROVIDING FUNDS

“Of course Parliament has power (to approve a) supplementary budget. We should focus on channelling funds to the devolved units and other necessary services to Wanjiku rather than providing funds for a referendum that is trying to create positions for individuals to become prime minister and deputy prime ministers.”

Senate Deputy Chief Whip Irungu Kang’ata, however, insisted that change in the Constitution would not interfere with the President’s development agenda.

“Italy has constant electoral cycles but it's a strong democracy. So I disagree that the referendum drive will affect our development. That which we lose by being a divided society is more than what we can spend to rectify the problem,” Mr Kang’ata said.

He went on: “We can always do a supplementary budget as Parliament to provide for cash for the drive.”

2022 POLITICS

ODM Chairman John Mbadi told off Mr Cherargei and accused him and the Tangatanga brigade of being hypocritical on the push for a referendum “yet they are the ones who have been playing 2022 politics by campaigning for Ruto (the DP).”

“They have been politicking all through for Ruto’s 2022 bid. Now when it comes to a referendum, they are becoming hypocritical that it will deter development. This is a confirmation that they do not value unity in the country,” Mr Mbadi said.

If the proposed BBI amendments do not require a referendum, he said, then it can be taken to Parliament.

“There are many routes. It does not have to come to Parliament direct,” he said.