The decision by Deputy President William Ruto to support the push for a referendum to amend the constitution has been welcomed as a positive gesture toward a contest-free referendum, but ODM leader Mr Raila Odinga allies have asked him desist from issuing conditions.
The DP’s change of heart came as Wiper Democratic Movement leader Kalonzo Musyoka rooted for an uncontested referendum, while leaders in Western and Rift Valley are divided over the push for a plebiscite.
Mr Ruto on Saturday made an about-turn on the referendum debate in what observers say is part of a raft of political strategies he has put in place to stay ahead of the competition in his bid to succeed President Kenyatta in 2022.
National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed Sunday welcomed the DP’s change of tune but described as “irrelevant” conditions his allies have given in exchange to fully support the amendment to the supreme law.
“Mr Ruto change of tune is fine. We thank him for seeing the light and leaving the devil’s chapel but we want his allies to desist from making demands. They either support the initiative or they don't,” Mr Mohamed said. “The conditions are irrelevant because what is important is what is good for the people.”
Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen had said during a public rally in Elgeyo Marakwet he supported calls for a referendum but with conditions.
“We don’t fear referendum or an election. Should the president and his deputy summon us for a meeting as legislators to communicate to us that we abandon the Big Four Agenda and go for a referendum we will support it,” said Mr Murkomen.
“But should the referendum be called, we will not support a referendum which will make us as Elgeyo-Marakwet County go back to Nakuru yet devolution has brought services closer to the people.”
On Sunday, the DP maintained that he has no problem with the reforms to the constitution so long as they are aimed at reducing the burden on Kenyans. Mr Ruto said that those planning the plebiscite should know that Kenyans were not interested in creating positions for leaders but in development.
"Let the group talking about reduction of seats work with those for creation of positions and come up with the question for the referendum. But if they think they will create positions, we are telling them to forget," he said. The DP was addressing congregants on Sunday at the African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa, Kithaku, Meru county during a fundraiser.
“Telling us that the referendum was agreed upon under the handshake is lying and conmanship. Saying that the referendum is a must, is dictatorship,” Mr Ruto said.
He also said he would oppose any attempt to use the referendum to divide the country. “We know there are people who are used to dividing the country. Let them know that there is a shortage of foolish Kenyans who can be divided. We cannot allow divisions anymore,” he said. The change of tune by the DP means that the debate now shifts on the timing and the content of the proposed of the amendments.
There is a national consensus that the current constitutional set-up is unwieldy. A special audit of the socio economic impact of the new constitution conducted by the office of the auditor general found out that the cost of keeping political leaders in office has more than doubled since its adoption in 2010.
The audit shows that the cost of the bicameral Parliament — the National Assembly and the Senate — rose to Sh23 billion or Sh55 million per MP in 2014/15 compared to the single chamber’s budget of Sh10.2 billion in 2011/12.
“There are concerns regarding cost implications of the expansion of Parliament from a single chamber with 222 members to a bicameral one with 418 members,” says Auditor-General Edward Ouko in the report commissioned in 2014.
“Put together, the cost of running a bicameral Parliament, the over-representation of Kenyans, and the exorbitant allowances paid to Kenyan MPs are contributing to the rising wage bill. The allowances alone, in some instances, tend to go beyond the basic pay,” the auditor wrote.
The team recommended the reduction of the number of MPs and MCAs by half without compromising national values on diversity, protection of vulnerable groups, and the marginalised, and equality regarding gender.
It also recommended that presidential candidates be allowed to run for another position, massive retrenchment in the civil service to ease the wage bill and the review of academic qualifications for legislative seats.
The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) has proposed the number of cabinet secretaries reduced and the positions of Prime Minister and two deputy prime ministers created.
The NCCK General Secretary Peter Karanja said restructuring of the executive will not only address the currently bloated wage bill but also create greater inclusivity by accommodating political class.
Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi and Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetangula said that before leaders engage in debate on the referendum, Kenyans should first be involved on what needs to be changed.
Mr Mudavadi said the Independent Electorate and Boundaries (IEBC) should first be reconstituted before Kenyans think of a referendum. He said politicians are subjecting Kenyans to a campaigning mood without spelling out what needs to be changed in the law.
Kakamega governor Wycliffe Oparanya castigated leaders who are opposed to amending the constitution for fear of losing their positions arguing that reforms was gaining momentum because Kenyans are undergoing harsh economic times.
He said the Council of Governors is supporting the amendment debate so that it can reorganise the governance structure for a more efficient system.
Kiminini MP Chris Wamalwa agreed with the ANC leader on IEBC and urged the President to constitute a selection panel to recruit new commissioners.
Mr Musyoka reiterated the need to have another look at the supreme law and perfect it where there are issues of concern.
“This time I am calling on all of us to make sure we come up with a document which will address issues which are afflicting Kenyans; the incredibly high wage bill, ” he said yesterday during the ordination ceremony of Reverend Samuel Kairu of Covenant Worship Church in Ruai, Nairobi.
He said devolution must be safeguarded and strengthened because it is the only avenue where the common person can participate in governance. Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa said leaders calling for the referendum should listen to the voices of the citizens and address issues that suppress them, warning against personalisation of the issues.
“Don’t make the issue look like it is for the benefit of Raila or Ruto but change the constitution for prosperity so that it can make Kenya more inclusive, democratic and more efficient,” said Mr Wamalwa, noting that the review should give people to choose what they think is good for them.
Kitui governor Charity Ngilu expressed shock with the DP’s change of tune describing it as insincere. She said she expected Mr Ruto to be the one pushing the most for changes to the sections which made him oppose the document in 2010.
NGOs Council of Kenya said it is time to amend the constitution so that the country can have a law that provide for a lean system of government with structures that are affordable.
Reported by Ibrahim Oruko, Boniface Mwaniki, Wycliffe Kipsang, Gerald Bwisa, Dennis Lubanga, Sammy Lutta, Fadhili Fredricks, Stephen Oduor, Kalume Kazungu, Derrick Luvega, Shaban Makokha, Gitonga Marete, Alex Njiru and David Muchui