The clamour for a constitutional review is gaining momentum, with more legislators proposing changes that would require a referendum.
At least five lawmakers have made proposals that seek to radically alter the country’s governance structure by creating the position of an executive prime minister to head the Government, abolishing the Senate, and scrapping the positions of nominated MPs and MCAs.
The latest proposals by West Mugirango MP Vincent Mogaka and his Ndia colleague George Kariuki seek to reduce the number of Cabinet secretaries from the current maximum of 22 to 12, and counties from the current 47 to 12.
Yesterday, the National Assembly continued to debate on the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2018 by Kiminini MP Chris Wamalwa that seeks to change the election date.
The Bill proposes moving the General Election from the second Tuesday of August every fifth year to the third Monday of December.
The National Assembly’s Justice and Legal Affairs committee has backed the proposal to change the election date to December, but lawmakers are sharply divided on the best method to amend the Constitution.
Some are opposed to ‘piecemeal’ changes to the Constitution and have asked that all proposed amendments be consolidated before being debated by the House, and consequently subjected to a referendum.
Various groups have also been calling for a referendum for different reasons, including the need to tame the soaring public wage bill, open the door to a parliamentary system of government, strengthen devolution and redress electoral injustices.
But the clamour to overhaul the governance structure is being fuelled mainly by concerns about the bloated wage bill, a soaring public debt that has burdened Kenyans with heavy taxes, and the charged political environment every electioneering period.
Outside Parliament, the proposal has gained momentum as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which was unveiled following the political truce between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga, started collecting views from the public on areas of national concern and how they should be addressed.
Separately, the Thirdway Alliance party under 2017 presidential candidate Ekuru Aukot met with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to discuss progress in their push for a referendum.
Party officials told The Standard that the party had collected 519,000 signatures from registered voters by yesterday. To trigger a referendum through a popular initiative requires one million signatures.
Mr Aukot wants the number of MPs reduced to 194, down from the current 416 members in both the National Assembly and Senate. The party also seeks to use the 47 counties as a single constituency unit for purposes of parliamentary elections to the Senate and National Assembly, elevate the Senate to be an Upper House with veto powers and introduce a single seven-year-term presidency.
On the other hand, Evangelical Alliance of Kenya (EAK) clerics have called for an audit of the current Constitution before going for a referendum.
Speaking at a press conference at their Nairobi offices yesterday, EAK chairman Mark Kariuki said a proper audit by Kenyans should be done on certain articles that they think need to be changed, and then recommend the changes.
“The Church was very vocal in our opposition to the then proposed Constitution, which we agreed needed reform. Time has come for a proper and comprehensive audit of the Constitution. Any referendum should be informed by what Kenyans say they need, not based on what politicians dictate for themselves,” said Bishop Kariuki.
The clerics maintained that the public should be the drivers of the constitutional change.
“Kenyans, and not politicians, should be the drivers of this process, which should be initiated and moved at county level rather than big Bomas (of Kenya)-type meetings that often end up being infiltrated by partisan interests.”
The cleric cited Chapter Six on Leadership and Integrity in conjunction with Article 10 on National Values as sections that needed to be changed, saying the Leadership and Integrity Act needed to be elevated to meet the aspirations of Kenyans.
Kariuki has written to National Asssembly Speaker Justin Muturi seeking fewer counties that will be headed by a provincial governor, while Mr Mogaka is proposing a reduction of ministries to a maximum 22, saying this will reduce the public wage bill through a lean Executive.
The MP also wants Cabinet secretaries to be called Cabinet ministers, and proposes that they should be picked from Parliament.
The West Mugirango MP also wants to change the system of governance from the current presidential to a hybrid model.
“The objective of the Bill is to reduce the bloated public wage bill and also ensure that MPs have an opportunity during question hour to ask Cabinet ministers questions on issues affecting their constituents,” he said.
Tiaty MP William Kamket (Kanu) proposes creating the position of an executive prime minister as head of Government, scrapping the position of deputy president and establishing two deputy prime minister posts.
The proposal further seeks to limit a president to a one seven-year term in office – from the current two five-year terms – and have the holder preside over ceremonial functions.
Soy MP Caleb Kositany also wants the Senate as well the positions of nominated MP and MCA scrapped to address the ballooning wage bill.
Yesterday, Deputy President William Ruto and Raila’s allies clashed over the changes, with the DP’s camp dismissing the proponents.
This came as Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka also supported the review, saying “the winner takes it all approach has plunged the country into ethnic violence as some people feel excluded from the Government”.
“Any opportunity for dialogue is important. I support such initiatives, even the Building Bridges Initiative,” Kalonzo said on a local television show on Tuesday.
Senate Leader of Majority Kipchumba Murkomen said it was impossible to have a referendum because it was not a priority at a time when the country was struggling with budget cuts.
“It must be remembered that our 2010 Constitution was arrived at after intense and prolonged consultations. A planned referendum, therefore, cannot just happen easily considering that the proposed areas of amendments are as many as the Kenyan population,” Mr Murkomen told The Standard.
“Besides, at a time when the conversation is about financial prudence, it’s impossible to get a budget for an exercise that is not anywhere near the priority areas for Kenya. We also don’t have a functional IEBC to supervise any elections let alone a referendum.”
But National Assembly Leader of Minority John Mbadi said the DP could not stop a referendum should Kenyans feel that was the way out of their current problems.
“What is coming out is that Kenyans feel it is time to change the Constitution. The proposals are a sign of frustration of our current system,” he said.