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Handshake team hands in initial report with eyes on referendum

Sunday July 14 2019

Building Bridges Initiative

Building Bridges Initiative chairman Yusuf Haji (centre) and vice-chairman Adams Oloo (right) listen to submissions from members of the public at the Kenya School of Government in Nairobi on November 22, 2018. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

JUSTUS WANGA
By JUSTUS WANGA
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The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) task force is poised to recommend fundamental reorganisation of the country’s governance structure. This comes as the team’s tenure is set to come to an end in the coming weeks.

Information on a preliminary brief to President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga, which the Sunday Nation is privy to, reveals immense support for that route as informed by overwhelming submissions.

As the details of the task force findings filter through, it is also turning out that most of the operatives in the state have now welcomed the idea of a referendum in what not only promises to alter the country’s political architecture ahead of the 2022 General Election, but may also see Mr Kenyatta’s Deputy William Ruto’s mettle tested ahead of the watershed poll by taking the opposing side in the plebiscite.

FINAL REPORT

The team led by Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji has been regularly briefing Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga on the progress and is expected to retreat at the end of the month to draft the final report before its term ends in September.

“We are well on course and within schedule,” Senator Haji said.

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The BBI members met researchers on Monday, a team of experts who are analysing the voluminous data mostly in the form of memoranda received over the last six months.

Some of the researchers we spoke to in confidence disclosed that, other than altering the system of governance, a majority of submissions raised concerns on the rising cost of living and how it should be tamed. They were also concerned about the rising public wage bill, the Sunday Nation has learnt.

Key opposition leaders such as Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula support a vote to change the supreme law of the land. Mr Kenyatta is expected to support the position taken by the BBI.

While Mr Haji said it was premature to start discussions about a referendum or any other route to alter the laws of the land, sources within the team intimate that “the proposal to expand executive is stronger than any other aspects”, a pointer to what the final recommendations are likely to be.

GREATEST DEBATE

It is the whole talk about reintroduction of the prime minister’s seat that has elicited the greatest debate in the political sphere.

The DP says the idea is intended to create positions for poll losers. Mr Ruto, who has his eyes trained on the presidency in 2022, would like to inherit the seat in its current form.

Last week, Mr Haji told the Sunday Nation that they were splitting into groups to swiftly cover some ten counties, which are yet to be visited.

Mr Francis Muthaura, who now chairs the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) board, maintains that among other changes, Cabinet Secretaries should be picked from among lawmakers as was the case before the laws were changed in 2010.

He argues that while the idea of picking CSs from outside Parliament was meant to free the President’s hands to be able to scout for talent, the move had seen the government become too alienated from the people.

Those in support say having MPs sit in Cabinet will create a nexus that is not only good for service delivery but also allow CSs to be more candid with the President in terms of advice without fear that they could be rendered jobless without a fall-back plan.

Lawyer Paul Mwangi, a co-secretary in the task force, insists that while there could be a possibility of them recommending changes in the structure of governance, it does not necessarily have to be done through a referendum.

REFERENDUM

“There can never be a referendum for its own sake. It will depend on what the team proposes in its final report, we may propose a change that does not require a referendum,” he said.

Whether BBI roots for a referendum or not, there is an ongoing process led by the Thirdway Alliance which has collected signatures to amend the Constitution.

Under the Punguza Mizigo banner, the team led by Ekuru Aukot wants to reduce the cost of running government and make life more bearable for the citizens. The reduction of the number of MPs and the abolition of woman representative and deputy governor positions are some of the proposals.

The electoral commission is expected to complete its review of the 1.4 million signatures the team collected before giving further direction on Friday.

“We are upbeat. We will chart the way forward after the July 19 decision by the polls team. We want a bottoms-up approach to managing the economy,” Thirdway Alliance Chairman Miruru Waweru said.

Though the process has been marred by delays, forcing the Thirdway Alliance to seek explanations, IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati assures that all is well.

“The commission reiterates its commitment to conducting this process in a transparent and accountable manner within the legal and administrative provisions,” Mr Chebukati says in a letter to Mr Waweru. The Bill must get the nod of at least 24 county assemblies and support of the bicameral parliament before it can be subjected to a direct vote.

PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM

On Saturday, Mr Aden Duale, the leader of majority in the National Assembly, said it is the people who will decide which form of governance they want.

“In 2010, they chose a presidential system. If they now want a parliamentary one, it must be through a referendum. People like Raila and Kalonzo who want a referendum should be reminded that funerals are not the place to achieve this,” he said.

He also dismissed Mr Muthaura’s submissions to BBI that whoever emerges number two in presidential elections should automatically become the prime minister.

“What would be the point of going for elections in the first place if the loser is rewarded?” he posed. But as politicians prepare their arsenal in readiness for the plebiscite, observers are asking whether it is realistically possible to have the exercise in the current financial year since the Treasury CS Henry Rotich never factored it in the budget.

There are also doubts on whether the electoral body as currently constituted can oversee such a massive undertaking since it is operating without four commissioners after vice chairperson Connie Maina, Margaret Mwachanya and Paul Kurgat resigned last year.

Sentiments by Mr Odinga in April that this is the year of change has lent some credence to the referendum debate with DP’s allies charging that the BBI was constituted with a predetermined outcome.

“We want to look at our governance and see what needs to be rectified or corrected. If you want to stand in the way of change, change is going to change you. So you have a choice either to be with us or not to be with us,” Mr Odinga said.