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Focus turns on BBI proposals as Uhuru, Raila await report

Sunday November 24 2019

Building Bridges

Building Bridges for National Unity Advisory Task Force Chairman Yusuf Haji speaks to the media about why they delayed handing their report over to the President and Mr Odinga, on November 22, 2019 at Intercontinental Hotel. They have kept details of the final report a guarded secret. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

WALTER MENYA
By WALTER MENYA
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IBRAHIM ORUKO
By IBRAHIM ORUKO
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As the “handshake” task force hands in its report on Tuesday, focus will be on key aspects touching on historical injustices, proposals on constitutional changes and reorganisation of the government, which took centrestage during the final meetings of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) team.

The BBI task force, co-chaired by Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji and his Busia counterpart Amos Wako, has kept details of the final report a guarded secret and cautioned against speculation about the contents.

At a press conference on Friday, Mr Haji talked of “the flood of false reports that are circulating on social media claiming to be from BBI”.

He pleaded with Kenyans to wait for the report to be presented to President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga on Tuesday.

“The misrepresentations are designed to sow confusion and division among Kenyans at a time when there is a strong national consensus on the need for cohesion, honesty and ambition to change our country for the better,” said Mr Haji.

TJRC REPORT

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However, Sunday Nation has learnt that one of the less talked about but major issues the task force grappled with in writing their final report — and which could have partly led to the delay in handing in the findings for over a month — was how to deal with the recommendations of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation (TJRC) report.

A source familiar with the goings-on, but who spoke in confidence, said there were efforts to ensure a delicate balance on the sensitive subject.

The TJRC handed in their four-volume report to President Uhuru Kenyatta in May 2013.

But six years down the line, the recommendations are yet to be implemented and Parliament has not allocated time to look at the reports.

On the one hand, ODM leader Raila Odinga is understood to have been pushing for the recommendations to be included in the BBI report and there be an undertaking that they will be implemented.

Also, starting right from within the task force, the TJRC recommendations have been a hard sell, given the influential individuals mentioned, including task force co-chair Mr Haji.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s side is said to be unenthusiastic about bringing back the TJRC whose findings and recommendations have been left to die a natural death.

REFERENDUM

A source with inside knowledge of the task force told Sunday Nation that the team has been considering including in their final report that the TJRC recommendations be handled by an independent body — as a compromise. It will be one of the issues to look out for on Tuesday.

Amid the 2022 succession politics, the system of governance — parliamentary or presidential system — has been a major source of divisions.

Other sources indicate that the initial draft had proposals that touched on the powers of Parliament in amending the Constitution.

According to the source, the Executive was concerned with Article 255 (1) (h), which places amendment of some clauses from the exclusive purview of parliamentarians and which, if touched, will need a referendum.

The President has been championing the expansion of the executive, which can only be realised through a referendum.

During a meeting with Mt Kenya leaders at Sagana Lodge in Nyeri last week, President Kenyatta declared that he is open to the expansion of the executive if that will promote peaceful existence of Kenyan communities.

DIVISION

The other contentious issue is whether or not to go for a referendum to amend the Constitution.

There seems to be little appetite for a high-stakes referendum that will raise political temperatures.

The Jubilee wing loyal to Deputy President William Ruto, which has been critical of BBI, is especially opposed to such a move.

Given the poisoned environment, our source says that after reviewing the advance copies of the report, the Executive is keen to avoid a referendum as it is seen as disruptive to the President’s pursuit of his legacy.

The team had proposed a parliamentary system with all its common features, for example proportional representation, a Prime Minister from the majority party, and leader of opposition from the minority party among others.

Yet, it is also true that the President is keen to avoid anything that appears to be an altercation with his deputy, who has declared war on the report even before it is made public.

“For me, this non-referendum route is trickier because it still has to come to Parliament, which is under the grip of Tangatanga (pro-Ruto group),” said a top Jubilee Party operative.

NATIONAL APPEAL

On Saturday, the Senate deputy minority whip Irungu Kangata said whether the BBI recommendations call for a referendum or parliamentary process doesn’t matter.

“The President has the numbers both in Parliament and on the ground to push his agenda on BBI,” he said.

“The President’s goals for a more cohesive, developed and corruption free Kenya are noble. I have no doubt Kenyans will rally behind him.”

Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, however, said he will only support the BBI report “if it assures us that the person who will wield the executive power will be directly elected by we, the people”.

Ahead of the presentation of the report, political leaders aligned to Mr Ruto have been giving conditions for supporting the report.

Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot, for instance, took issue with an alleged decision to leave out politicians affiliated to Tangatanga from the launch.

“I want to take my President for his word and believe that indeed BBI is about a new Kenya for all of us. But the actions of his office contradict him. Take, for example, only Kieleweke MPs have been asked to do a list of supporters to come receive the BBI report, the rest wajipange (sort out themselves),” he said in a social media post.