The two Speakers of Parliament have jointly given the Punguza Mizigo draft bill a lifeline after affirming to their respective Houses that it is well on course until the remaining 21 of the 47 county assemblies make their stand on it known, as required by the Constitution.
But even as Speaker Justin Muturi notified lawmakers in the National Assembly on Thursday afternoon, he affirmed that the threshold for introducing the bill in Parliament is yet to be met.
This is because only three of Kenya’s 47 county assemblies have approved the bill, far below the threshold of 24 required under Article 257 (7) of the Constitution to trigger its introduction in Parliament.
The three county assemblies — Machakos, Turkana and Uasin Gishu — have formally informed the National Assembly and Senate of their decision.
The Punguza Mizigo initiative had long been considered dead, with its promoters — the Thirdway Alliance Party leadership of Dr Ekuru Aukot (party leader) and Mr Miruru Waweru (chairman) — disengaging from the process after 23 county assemblies rejected the bill.
But Speaker Muturi, in his notification, says that it will be premature for Parliament to make a determination on the bill when 21 county assemblies are yet to formally communicate whether they have approved or rejected it.
“A final determination by the Speakers of the Houses of Parliament as to whether the threshold has been met would be premature,” Speaker Muturi ruled and directed House Clerk Michael Sialai to notify the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) of the status of the bill.
The clerk will notify the IEBC of the list of county assemblies that have submitted the draft bill and the certificate approving or rejecting it to the two Speakers of Parliament.
Mr Sialai will also provide a list of county assemblies that have not submitted the bill and the certificate.
On February 28 this year, the Thirdway Alliance delivered the bill to amend the Constitution by popular initiative and at least one million signatures to the IEBC for verification.
IEBC approved the bill and submitted it to the 47 county assemblies for consideration.
The bill seeks to amend the Constitution through a popular initiative by reducing the number of MPs in the National Assembly to 94 and ensuring wards become the centres of development.
There is also a proposal to ensure that the President serves a seven-year non-renewable term and that audit reports from the Office of Auditor-General become actionable by prosecuting those adversely mentioned.
“It is, therefore, a capricious turn of events for the promoters of the bill to be denied a definite endorsement or rejection of their proposal by the mere act of certain county assemblies either failing to discharge their constitutional mandate or failing to communicate their resolution,” Speaker Muturi said.
Mr Waweru said the communication by the Speakers confirms that the Punguza Mizigo bill never failed.
“The Speakers' communication showed that 21 county assemblies did not return the verdict and only 23 assemblies rejected the bill, meaning the bill was not rejected by a majority of counties,” he said.
“In fact, the two Speakers should have ensured the bill is tabled for debate in both Houses instead of issuing the communication, as the bill was rejected by a minority of the counties. This means that the two Houses should debate the bill without delay as provided for in article 257.”
According to Article 257, which Mr Muturi says was not crafted in vain, the 47 county assemblies are required to consider the bill within three months.
If a county assembly approves the bill within three months after the date it was submitted by the IEBC, its Speaker is required to deliver its copy to Speakers of the two Houses jointly with a certificate of approval.