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See the devil in Punguza Mizigo beauty

Tuesday September 17 2019

REFERENDUM

Eldoret residents on October 26, 2018 sign Thirdway Alliance Party's Punguza Mizigo petition that calls for constitutional reforms. The bill is an idyllic initiative. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

GICHU KIHORO
By GICHU KIHORO
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On the surface, the Punguza Mizigo Bill is an idyllic initiative.

A grassroots movement, ostensibly coming from outside the major political camps that aims to reduce the burden on the taxpayer through constitutional reform. Sounds great, right?

The devil though, as ever, is in the detail. For all its inclusive language, the bill is a collection of populist proposals designed to hoodwink and win over ‘Wanjiku’, all the while serving a more sinister agenda.

Take, for example, the proposal to cut the number of constituencies. This, of course, sounds good.

After all, less constituencies means less MPs, which means fewer people to be paid from the public purse. Which means more money for us, right?

The issue, though, is that MPs serve a purpose. They represent us. That is what representative democracy is all about.

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REPRESENTATION

But with the bill, with one fell swoop the area an MP represents will increase dramatically, as will the number of constituents the average member has to represent. That means the citizen now has one third as much influence.

To illustrate my point, let’s compare Kenya to other countries. The United Kingdom, for example, has 650 MPs for a population of around 66 million. That’s roughly one MP for every 100,000 people.

In Africa, we could look at Botswana, often cited as one of the strongest democracies on the continent, which has 63 MPs for its 2.3 million people. In other words, one MP for every 36,000 citizens.

In Kenya, our 416 lawmakers represent around 50 million people, a ratio of one for every 120,000. Under this new proposal, that ratio would triple to one for every 340,000 citizens. Good luck getting heard.

What’s more, a smaller Parliament means a weaker Parliament — which means less scrutiny for the Executive branch. Good for those in power; less so for the rest of us.

MARGINALISED GROUPS

Things look especially dicey if you happen to be a woman or someone living with a disability.

Currently, there are seats set aside for women, youth and persons with disabilities. Punguza Mizigo purposes to abolish all these. Progressive and representative it, most certainly, is not.

On the subject of representation, what about the principle of giving different ethnic groups a fair stake in government?

The deputy governor position ensures that in ethnically diverse counties, there is space for more than one community to be represented in the Executive.

Punguza Mizigo intends to cut the DG position, meaning that each county becomes the personal fiefdom of one individual (or almost certainly under this initiative, one man!).

There is no room for a DG from another ethnicity, religion or gender — it is the absolute concentration of power in one man’s hands, the ultimate winner takes it all.

POST-VOTE CHAOS

And this brings us to the bill’s greatest flaw — the continuation of the zero-sum nature of politics on the national level.

Why is it that every national election in Kenya turns violent? Because the stakes are simply too high for any community to consider the possibility of defeat.

Within this context, it is not hard to understand why tensions are high.

Any sensible proposal for constitutional reform would make remedying this situation a priority by reducing the powers of the presidency and dispersing them between other offices.

The creation of the position of Executive Prime Minister is a sound and sensible proposal to do just this.

After all, if there are two great offices of State with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, the prize of the presidency will be less and the cost of not winning will be reduced.

POWER SHARING

Those of us who lived through the 2007/2008 violence will remember that the temporary creation of the office of Prime Minister helped to resolve the crisis, and Zimbabwe had a similar experience at around the same time.

This should be formalised and made permanent. The bill does no such thing, nor does it even pay lip service to the idea of power sharing.

Once we understand its shortcomings, we begin to see what the bill is really about.

It is not merely an oversight, in that it reduces the influence of Parliament but does nothing to disperse or share power.

On the contrary, at its essence the bill is a naked power grab to further strengthen the presidency, with only an emasculated Parliament to hold him to account, and no other centre of power.

If you wished to design a system to enshrine a ‘constitutional dictatorship’ in law, the bill would be the perfect instrument.

For this reason, the 47 county assemblies, as well as the broader public, should not be seduced by its populist appeal and must reject it out of hand.

Mr Kihoro is a research and data expert. [email protected]

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