Face-off looms over security bill in the National Assembly

National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale addresses the Press after a meeting at Parliament Buildings on the amendments in the security bill, Wednesday. With him are National Assembly departmental committee members. [PHOTO: BONIFACE OKENDO/STANDARD]
NAIROBI: The failure by MPs in Jubilee and CORD to strike a consensus on the draconian Security Laws (Amendment) Bill2014 has set the stage for political fireworks in the National Assembly Thursday.

This came as the ambassadors of nine countries released a statement urging the two rival parties to strike a consensus on the contentious bill to ensure “full respect for human rights and the rule of law”.

National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale had promised to get the two political factions to agree on a raft of amendments, but by the time of going to press all indications were that the gulf between the two sides had deepened.

Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) is now demanding that the bill be shelved in its entirety without any amendments.

Three House committees comprising members from the two coalitions held a joint meeting at Parliament to discuss various amendments to the bill, but walked out a divided lot, with the CORD side declining to address a joint press briefing with their Jubilee colleagues.

Instead, they walked across the road from the National Assembly to County Hall where they held a separate meeting to strategise on their next course of action on the floor of the House this afternoon. They rejected various amendments agreed on during the joint meeting and demanded that the whole bill be shelved.

The hardening of positions means today's debate of the bill by the Committee of the Whole House promises to be a tense affair. The nine ambassadors acknowledged that Kenya is facing serious security challenges but called on MPs to look at the bill soberly and "consult broadly to build consensus".

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The nine represent Britain, US, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, France and Sweden.

"It is important that the legislation, while strengthening security, respects human rights and international obligations. Protecting Kenya's constitution and upholding civil liberties and democracy are among the most effective ways to bolster security," they said in the statement.

They urged the country's leaders to build trust between security agencies to allow broader sharing of information and between the agencies and the public.

Early this week, Duale appeared to imply that the Jubilee coalition had yielded to pressure and agreed to amend various controversial clauses, among them the requirement that the media seek the approval of the National Police Service before publishing images of terrorist victims.

Instead, the MPs in the ruling coalition only proposed removing reference to the media and extending the clause to include all people who publish such images. The committees also agreed to reinstate in another clause the tribunal that would be involved in the firing of Inspector General of Police.

The initial bill had removed the tribunal, raising questions on the mechanism of applying the provisions of Article 147 of the Constitution, which sets out the grounds for the firing of public officers.

Duale was joined by the chairpersons of the three House committees to defend the amendments made to the initial bill. He was accompanied by Asman Kamama (Administration and National Security), Ndung'u Githenji (Defence) and Samuel Chepkonga (Justice and Legal Affairs). Duale took a swipe at the Opposition for opposing the amendments, insisting that they had been agreed on by members of the three committees.

"We have harmonised the amendments by the three committees. This is not a CORD or Jubilee affair, we are here to deal with a bill of Parliament. We didn't have a manifesto for CORD or Jubilee," said Duale.

But CORD co-principal Moses Wetang'ula and his colleagues addressed the media at County Hall and said they were opposed to all the amendments proposed by the joint committees.

Wetang'ula said all legislators in CORD have been instructed to take a tough stand on the bill when it comes before the House today, "including the title".

POWER TO ARREST

The three joint committees had also made changes to a clause that gave the National Intelligence Service powers to arrest and detain people suspected of engaging in or being in possession on "anything which poses a threat to national security".

The new amendment retains the power to arrest, but NIS officers would be required to hand them over to the nearest police station. CORD termed the amendments cosmetic and promised Jubilee a showdown in the National Assembly.

"This is a serious assault on the freedoms that Kenyans are enjoying today. We believe that the amendments are just a way of sugarcoating the bill," said Wetang'ula.

He was accompanied by other CORD leaders, including National Assembly Minority Leader Francis Nyenze and senators James Orengo, Boni Khalwale and Johnstone Muthama.

CORD's position is a followup to a meeting held on Tuesday during which their leader Raila Odinga warned President Uhuru Kenyatta on the bill.

Jubilee legislators later went into another session with over 15 MPs proposing individual amendments.

National Assembly Deputy Minority Leader Jakoyo Midiwo said CORD is prepared to fight to have the bill rejected.

Chairman of the House Justice and Legal Affairs committee, Samuel Chepkonga, said the amendments had been agreed upon. "We had a quorum in all the three committees," he said.

CORD has also threatened to call its supporters out to demonstrate against the bill.

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