Our problems do not warrant a referendum

The year 2018 has been one of reflection for many reasons. Last year’s hotly contested and controversial general elections brought about political polarization and protests that almost paralyzed the economy.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga then reconciled culminating in the “handshake” that promised to resolve Kenya’s perennial problems such as ethnic antagonism, divisive political competition and the lack of a national ethos manifesting in endemic corruption through the Building Bridges Initiative.

Other conversations included massive corruption revelations such as NYS II, Ruaraka land compensation saga, sugar contamination, KPLC, the NCPB maize scandal and bribery allegations in the National Assembly ostensibly to compromise investigation reports.

Honest conversations

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Contentious issues have also included the sustainability of government borrowing trends; poor prioritization; high wage bills and recurrent expenditures; high taxation and a high cost of living. For the first time, Kenyans began having hard conversations about abuse of power, looting of public resources, the role of leaders and regulatory bodies in tackling the vice; the role of our MPs. Kenyans were demanding accountability.

There was a sense that the Executive, Parliament, the Judiciary, and certain independent offices, civil society, religious groups and the media were beginning to consciously consider how to regain credibility from the people. The taxation debate and rising inflation illustrated to Kenyans that ethnic, political and class differences and prejudices were meaningless. The Mtu wetu mentality was finally being challenged.

The constitutional amendment clarion call started just when the Government, the Opposition and the political establishment had started feeling the outrage and call for accountability from the people.

To me, this debate is a political master stroke because it has effectively diverted attention from abuse of office and corruption to our constitutional structure.

The argument is that we need to amend the Constitution to remove the many representative positions that are depleting monies meant for development.  

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In reality, Kenya’s problems are a direct result of systemic failures and national attitudes towards good governance, accountability, electoral justice, the rule of law often perpetrated by Kenya’s political elite.

The proposed constitutional changes will only give the political class another opportunity to rebrand and reintroduce themselves and their proclivities. The forest may will change, but the monkeys will remain the same.

The argument that Kenyans are overrepresented is not a national crisis warranting a constitutional amendment and an expensive referendum. In fact, monies used to pay the alleged representatives is a drop in the ocean compared to the over Sh600 billion lost to corruption, and a lot more lost to wastage and duplication of roles.

Past amendments

Soon after independence, the National Assembly, through a political agreement by the political establishment severally amended the independence Constitution in 1964, 1966, 1969, 1976 and 1982. They abolished the parliamentary system of government and Senate; consolidated Executive powers; enabled the president to pardon politicians for electoral malpractices; deleted Section 2A of the Constitution thereby rendering Kenya a one-party state; and, introduced the Mlolongo system of voting.

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These amendments effectively inculcated tribalism and nepotism and marginalization of Opposition strongholds, impunity, legitimized detention without trial, eroded democracy and encouraged the disregard of the rule of law and lack of accountability.

In contrast, the 2010 Constitution has ensured that resources and decisions were taken closer to the people; created checks and balances through separation of powers and creation of constitutional and independent offices; bolstered the independence of the Judiciary; and, set out national values and leadership and integrity standards that have been thwarted for political expediency.

We need to honestly ask ourselves how and why a third of our budget disappears to graft annually; how and why oversight and regulatory bodies are increasingly staffed with political yes-men least interested in oversight; why Parliament has abandoned its oversight role; and, why Kenyan state and public officers are one of the highest paid in the world despite our low GDP. 

Exactly what will a new constitution do to tackle abuse of power, corruption, toxic ethnicity? The only solution is a people and media that does not accept mediocrity and that demands more from its leaders.

Mr Kiprono is a Human Rights lawyer [email protected]

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President Uhuru KenyattaRaila OdingaBuilding Bridges InitiativeNYS IINational AssemblyReferendum