If we tweak BBI proposals well, we’ll have to call a referendum

Saturday November 30 2019

We are back to a hybrid system of government, sort of. According to the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report, we should have an executive president directly elected as is, then a prime minister who is Leader of Government Business in the National Assembly and supervisor of day-to-day functions of government.


The PM will be appointed by the President from the majority political party in Parliament, or the largest coalition of parties. The seat is predicated on the national outcry for inclusivity. But assuming the President is from the same majority party as the PM, will that promote inclusivity? What if the President and PM are from different parties with opposing policies? How will this work? That was a problem with the Grand Coalition (2008-2013), where there was frequent deadlock on key issues and appointments. What if, to muddy things further, the runner-up to the presidential election (who is designated to become the Official Opposition Leader in Parliament) turns out to be the leader of the largest party in Parliament? Will he or she be named PM? If so, who becomes the Official Opposition Leader?


The issue of inclusivity also goes with an expectation for autonomous political offices. The BBI report says the President can sack the PM, or alternatively an ouster motion in the National Assembly can send him packing. There is much anxiety among many supporters of BBI about this presidential veto over the PM’s tenure, which was not there under the Grand Coalition. Those opposed to the clause have promised to have it relooked. Still, the PM will not be a mere Leader of Government Business in the National Assembly like Aden Duale currently is. He will sit in Cabinet and be consulted by the President when making other Cabinet appointments. And as part of his government supervisory brief, he will also chair Cabinet sub-committees. The Principal Secretary in his office will likewise chair the Technical Implementation Committee of PSs, a portfolio currently held by the PS in the Interior Ministry, Karanja Kibicho. In fact, distilled to its essence, the PM position will merge Duale’s and that of Interior CS Fred Matiang’i’s supervision functions, plus the additional key role of being consulted on Cabinet formation.



The hybrid system is further reflected in the proposal to have Cabinet Secretaries (to be renamed Ministers) sit in Parliament. Half of the Cabinet will comprise elected MPs, while the other half will be technocrats who will then be designated as ex-officio members of Parliament. MPs have been particularly insistent on this proviso, arguing that the current system of a technocratic Cabinet robs the Executive of persons with political acumen. I am not sure of that, much as I know many MPs are keen to position themselves for these Cabinet appointments.

Again, there is the anticipation that Cabinet members sitting in Parliament will better respond to the parochial demands of MPs on matters of their constituencies, which ideally are best tackled by the County governments. After all, the devolved units are to get enhanced allocations of at least 35 per cent and a maximum of 50 per cent of equitable share of national revenue.


It was a mistake to leave the huge size of the Legislature intact. Having 416 MPs (National Assembly and Senate combined) for a country of 47 million people and a GDP per capita of Sh200,000 is obscene. The same mistake was done with MCAs, who number more than 2,000 (1,450 elected, 772 nominated). Rationalisation of constituencies and county wards was an imperative which BBI side-stepped, no doubt owing to misplaced expediency. While the savings the Exchequer will make from the proposed termination of sitting allowances from salaried public officers will be substantial, the BBI taskforce should have gone further and recommend an overall reduction in government and in representation, which the BBI taskforce admitted was a demand by most Kenyans they listened to.

Making wealth declaration forms of state officers public is a very good idea in the fight against today’s runaway corruption. Better still, there should be penalties for giving false information in those forms. Another great but not new proposal is to bar state officers from doing business with the government or competing for government tenders. Anti-corruption enforcers must make sure the practice by public officers of using proxy companies to secure deals with government is discontinued.


The BBI report says the Judiciary must be accountable to the Kenyan people, but is short on prescriptions. The need for accountability is especially critical when it comes to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). A proposal worth pursuing is removing serving judicial officers from its membership. The existing situation makes for a hidebound Judiciary that covers up its own improprieties. Ideally, JSC should comprise a non-state membership of retired, distinguished personalities. That and other tweaks on the structure of governance will require a referendum.

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