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Referendum it is, we just have to decide the date, says Haji

Saturday March 14 2020
BBI

Priscilah Cherop gives her views during a Building Bridges Initiative forum at the Uasin Gishu County Hall in Eldoret on March 12, 2020. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By JUSTUS WANGA

Brace yourself for a referendum soon, the chairman of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) task force Yusuf Haji has told Kenyans.

In an interview with the Sunday Nation on Saturday, the Garissa senator said a plebiscite was inevitable if the dominant proposals from the public now before a team of experts are to be implemented.

Careful not to pre-empt the final report, the chairman said that in the event that a referendum is among the recommendations, they would not indicate when the country would hold it.

EXTENDED EXECUTIVE
“It would be upon the principals to decide when they want this done,” he said.
Mr Haji said a majority of those who appeared before the task force preferred an extended Executive, want more punitive measures to deal with convicted graft suspects and also a panacea for divisive elections.
Extending the Executive and, in effect, altering its structure to reintroduce positions such as that of prime minister, as was suggested by many groups that appeared before the team, requires the input of the people through a referendum.

The secretariat has divided the report into three sections, the chairman disclosed.

“For the issues we feel can be addressed administratively, we are making deliberate efforts to capture them as such. Then there are those that can only be effected via legislation in Parliament, we are singling them out as such. For the proposals that are only actionable through a referendum, we are also capturing them as such for presentation to the principals,” Mr Haji said.

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President Uhuru Kenyatta, who, with ODM leader Raila Odinga, created the team following their political truce in March 2018, will receive an interim BBI report as soon as next month.

He said a team of lawyers was working on a legislative framework for issues that do need a referendum to be implemented.

Leading politicians such as ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi and Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka, who appeared before the committee, want the premier’s position and that of two deputies revived.

“We support the recommendation by the BBI report for the establishment of a national Executive structure in which the Executive comprises a President, who is both the Head of State and government as well as the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces, a Deputy President, and a prime minister, who is appointed by the President from the President’s party subject to approval by Parliament. The responsibilities of the prime minister must be clearly defined,” Mr Mudavadi said.

ALLIANCE BUILDING
For the politicians, with eyes trained on the 2022 presidential elections, additional positions at the top give them room to bring in more key regional players into their fold when it comes to alliance building. They will dangle the slots in the event of victory.

The Haji-led team is holed up in a Nairobi hotel, where it is writing the report following the conclusion of the validation sessions last week.

The task force runs until June, when it is expected to close shop. “We are within schedule and will be ready before the end of June,” Mr Haji said.

Contrary to the widely held perception that their role was to rubber-stamp the decision already taken by Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, Mr Haji said they have had a free hand in running the task force.
“None of the principals have dictated to us how to go about this business. They gave us the job and are waiting for the report,” he said.

Mr Odinga remains confident that it is practical to have a referendum this year even though the 2010 Budget Policy Statement (BPS) does not capture it in the 2020/2021 projected expenditure.

His handlers say that with State support, it is possible to collect the required one million signatures as soon as the BBI team hands over its report through chiefs across the country in record time.
To address the budget issue, they say they are ready to marshal international support for funds.

Senate Minority Leader James Orengo, a close Odinga ally, is leading the push to hold the referendum as soon as June. In an interview last week, the Siaya senator dropped the June date he floated a while back but insisted that a plebiscite “is still very feasible this year”.

DRAFT BILL

He said the Haji panel should come up with a report and a draft bill, after which the collection of signatures will start in earnest.

On Friday, Health CS Mutahi Kagwe invoked the Public Health Act and banned all public gatherings, an order that also saw the cancellation of the BBI rally that had been earmarked for Nakuru next Saturday.

The divisive nature of the rallies has been a matter of concern for the secretariat, which holds that to some extent, they have fanned animosity instead of uniting politicians from diverse inclinations.

Nakuru was in particular threatening to get out of hand after supporters of Deputy President William Ruto from the Rift Valley vowed to forcibly take charge of the event, in the process attracting strong reaction from the wing allied to Mr Odinga.

Similar tensions saw a rally scheduled for Eldoret later in the month cancelled last week.

While they have not been party to the rallies, Mr Haji regretted that some of the scenes in the events threatened to cloud the very essence of the BBI.

“We are not happy when rallies turn into shouting matches. We are against any form of polarisation that will interfere with cohesion in the country,” he said.

A veteran administrator and non-controversial figure, the choice of Mr Haji sat well with allies of Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga, two leading politicians who were once in the same camp but do not get along today.

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