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The good, the bad of Punguza Mizigo

Thursday October 17 2019

Residents of Mandera during public participation of the Punguza Mizigo bill

Residents of Mandera during public participation of the Punguza Mizigo bill on September 20, 2019. PHOTO | MANASE OTSIALO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

UDGOON SIYAD
By UDGOON SIYAD
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The Punguza Mizigo Bill, which seeks to change the Constitution through a referendum, had, as at the beginning of the week, been rejected by 21 county assemblies with Uasin Gishu’s the only nod so far.

The Bill, which is sponsored by Thirdway Alliance party leader Ekuru Aukot, has desirable and undesirable proposals, but the one to increase county revenue allocation to 35 per cent of the national budget was likely to get support.

Although counties have proved to be as corrupt as the national government, the money left over after the theft has improved wananchi’s lives.

MARGINALISED REGIONS

Hitherto marginalised regions like Garissa enjoy an array of infrastructure, like hospitals and roads, for the first time.

The Bill also wants people who have been adversely mentioned in commissions of inquiry barred from holding public office and those found to be corrupt by courts of law jailed for life.

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The two proposals seek to heal one of the most crippling diseases afflicting the nation — impunity. It is inconceivable that people mentioned in public inquiries, such as the Goldenberg one and the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, hold venerated positions.

Even more aggravating to the national spirit, some of those charged in court with corruption have the audacity to aspire to the presidency.

PRIMARY UNITS

A major proposal in the Bill is turning the 1,450 wards into the primary units of administration and development. Accordingly, the Constituency Development Fund would be converted into ward funds.

In principle, this is a sound proposal. The problem is, ward reps have proved to be just as adept at theft as governors. In many instances, MCAs have proved intellectually and ideologically inept. Their idea of oversight is arm-twisting governors into paying them all kinds of allowances, perks and foreign travel. They have been known to cut lucrative deals with tendering firms.

The Bill is, however, silent on how that would enhance efficiency and oversight.

Other interesting proposals include having one seven-year presidential term, abolition of the position of deputy governor, capping of salaries for government officials and making positions in state commissions part-time.

The themes of the Punguza Mizigo Bill are reduction of wastage, inclusivity, development at the grassroots and accountability. But some of the proposals to achieve the values are either ineffective or need reconfiguration.

SAVE MONEY

In some instances, the effect of the proposals would contradict their aims — for example, the proposal to hold an election should the governor’s seat fall vacant.

Why not have the Speaker of the county assembly or any of the county executives take over in order to save money?

Dr Aukot wants counties to be constituencies — each electing two MPs, a woman and a man. A county like Lamu, with 69,793 registered voters in 2017, would, therefore, have the same number of MPs as Nairobi (2,251,921).

That means the voice of a Lamu voter in the National Assembly would be 32 times as strong as Nairobi’s.

This conflicts with the two-thirds Gender Bill which Parliament seems unable to pass and the two MPs per county would not be ideal in a parliamentary system.

POWER

The proposal that the Auditor-General’s reports be automatically adopted and lead to prosecutions gives too much power to this office and detracts from the Director of Public Prosecution’s role. Further, saying corruption trials must end in 30 days is unrealistic.

The 2010 Constitution took years to write. The national convention that worked on the Bomas draft had wide representation in form of delegates and experts. It was the most democratic experiment Kenya, and few other countries, had engaged in.

Precisely because of this systematic and all-inclusive approach, the final document was not only well-crafted but enjoyed universal ownership and support.

For universal ownership and support, a proposal seeking fundamental constitutional changes — like the Punguza Mizigo Bill — cannot avoid a democratic method. The changes must be carried out in the same way as the Bomas draft — through national delegates.

PARTISAN GAME

No doubt, Dr Aukot’s Bill is the most well thought-out and sincere attempt at changing the Constitution so far.

But avoiding a national convention or delegates conference could reduce the process to a partisan game, with different groups pushing individual Bills.

Amending the Constitution is not the same as changing a party manifesto. Dr Aukot’s Bill would serve us better if it were tabled at a delegates conference. Or how would all these suggestions be evaluated rationally to avoid ending up with a mishmash of a constitution?

Ms Siyad is a youth leader in Garissa County. [email protected]

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