The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report’s implementation timelines are under threat following the coronavirus pandemic.
BBI proponents had promised Kenyans a referendum this year to ratify public views obtained by the steering committee during rallies spearheaded by ODM leader Raila Odinga.
The committee wrapped up its hearings two weeks ago and was expected to give its recommendations in three phases – administrative, legislative and referendum changes, according to its chairman Yusuf Haji.
The current situation, however, is likely to interfere with the timelines and cause delays.
Already, a section of politicians and analysts say there is need for the steering committee to defer its work until a later date.
Political analyst Javas Bigambo wondered how signatures would be collected when there is a countrywide lockdown.
“MCAs would be a threat unto themselves if they were to be buoyed by narrow political interests tied to the referendum business,” Mr Bigambo said.
BBI joint secretary Paul Mwangi declined to comment on the matter when contacted.
ODM Director of Elections Junet Mohamed had earlier told the Nation that the nine-point agenda contained in the joint communique by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, including a referendum, would be concluded in June this year.
However, Mr Mohamed also did not comment on the issue when reached.
Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, the BBI Mount Kenya team leader, said the drive was not a priority as the country battles the spread of Covid-19.
“Right now that is the last thing on our minds. We are dealing with a matter of life and death. We need to first and foremost ensure the safety of our citizens and stop the spread of this disease. That and only that is our priority right now,” Ms Waiguru told the Nation.
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata said the BBI timelines may have to be reset. “A referendum needs money. About Sh10 billion ought to be set aside for the exercise. The economy may go on recession so there will be no money for a referendum,” Mr Kang’ata said.
With factories closed, exports diminishing and international travel halted, Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) is unlikely to meet its targets, he said, adding that all resources available will be channelled towards meeting Kenyans’ health needs.
“But even if this happens, Parliament needs to pass enabling statutes and for now it is adjourned,” he said.
Mr Bigambo said national and global attention was firmly fixed on combating Covid-19. Prof Herman Manyora, another political analyst, expressed similar sentiments.
“The Covid-19 pandemic will supersede all else. BBI preparations will go on. The report, yes. The bill, yes. But those activities that involve the public will have to wait,” Prof Manyora said.
ODM Director of Political Affairs Opiyo Wandayi said that “where there is a will, there is a way. Since the country has identified BBI as the route to fix its governance, social and economic challenges, it must complete the journey, with or without coronavirus.
Moreover, public hearings and sensitisation rallies are now over. What remains does not require large public gatherings. The BBI task force should work in the background to deliver on its mandate within the stipulated timeframe.”
The one million signatures required for the referendum, he said, can be collected within a week.
“Both the IEBC and county assemblies are still functioning even with the coronavirus menace. A referendum should happen before August,” he said.
However, most county assemblies have been adjourned as members adhere to the government’s directive to stay home.
Mr Bigambo said if the number of those infected continues to rise, BBI matters will have to be deferred till the pandemic is under control.
“It would be unfortunate for politicians and the BBI steering committee to aggressively carry on with the referendum push when the pandemic is a threat to all Kenyans,” he said.