New clamour for referendum seeks to introduce powerful Prime Minister post

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga meet members of the Building Bridges Initiative taskforce at State House in Nairobi last year. [File, Standard]
Creation of the position of powerful prime minister is one of the key recommendations given to a team tasked by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga to receive public submissions towards ending cycle of electoral violence.

Submissions to the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) suggest the clamour to amend the Constitution to overhaul the country’s governance system, including creation of the post of executive prime minister, is gathering steam.

Those who back a referendum to achieve this want powers of the president to be trimmed and be checked by an expanded Executive and a powerful parliamentary system.

First premier

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Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was the country's first prime minister in 1963, but he thereafter became president after the country became a republic.

The last attempt to reintroduce the prime minister's post was during the 2005 referendum through the Bomas Draft, which was however watered down to a version backed by the then government. Uhuru and Raila who were in the Orange team at the time successfully campaigned for the defeat of the Wako draft, named after the then Attorney General Amos Wako.

The nine-member task force chaired by Garissa Senator Yussuf Haji with Prof Adams Oloo deputising him, has so far been to seven counties namely Nairobi, Machakos, Kitui, Tharaka Nithi, Embu, Makueni and Meru.

Today, the BBI task force opens public hearings by meeting residents of Isiolo and Marsabit. Haji will lead a team to Isiolo while Oloo will lead another team to Marsabit.

The two groups will reunite and head to Samburu tomorrow and thereafter receive presentations by residents of Laikipia County on Thursday.

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Presentations by Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu), governors, senators, MPs, Members of County Assembly (MCAs) and the public in general are unanimous that the country’s governance system has to be changed.

During his presentation in Nairobi last month, Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli called for an amendment to the Constitution to create the position of prime minister and two deputies who will oversee and supervise the day to day running of Government.

He argued that a parliamentary system of governance is the best as it aligns the governance structure to the changing socio-economic and political dynamics, including the aspect of creating a government that is all inclusive and resonates well with majority of Kenyans, if not all.

He proposed an amendment to Article 154 (1) to create the position of a chief secretary who will be in-charge of overall government administration and sit as a member of the Cabinet.

“Equally, an Amendment to Chapter Nine (9) on the Executive, Part Two (2) under Article 131 (1)  to create the position president with  two deputies to reduce the anxiety that comes with a single deputy to the president being viewed as the next president upon the end of term of the serving president,” Atwoli said.

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Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, in his memorandum to the BBI team this month, called for the expansion of the Executive to allow for a more inclusive leadership that reflects the face of Kenya.

Kuria has proposed a structure that will have president, deputy president, prime minister and two deputy prime ministers.

“President and deputy will receive briefings from Prime Minister on the performance of government. While president and deputy shall not be MPs, prime minister and deputy prime ministers can vie and when they lose, they automatically become nominated MPs,” Kuria said.

Raila’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) has proposed seven-year non-renewable presidential term.

The Orange party, through its technical committee, said the seven-year non-renewable term would take focus away from the presidency, which it said had become the trophy for ethnic competition.

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ODM proposal

In its proposals to the task force, ODM is also proposing restructuring of the Executive to re-introduce a parliamentary system and have a president elected by a college of legislators. They have also called for the creation of the prime minister’s post.

The party has also called for creation of more Executive positions. In the structure of devolution, Raila’s team proposes creation of 14 regional units who will elect a regional premier who will oversee several counties.

When National Super Alliance (Nasa) was campaigning in 2017, the coalition had promised to amend the Constitution to create the position of prime minister and two deputies.

It had indicated that it will adopt the Bomas Draft which had proposals for an expanded Executive.

Council of Governors (CoG) has appointed renowned constitution reform lawyers Prof Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) and Kiraitu Murungi (Meru) to co-chair its committee on referendum.

CoG chairman Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega) said the creation of the PM's post will solve the country’s perennial skirmishes during elections.

“We want a less powerful central government and powerful devolved units that respect each other. In this sense, the post of PM is key to neutralising power at the centre for us to be able to address challenges bedeviling devolution since its inception,” Oparanya said.

Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, while making his presentation at Kenya School of Government in Mombasa last month, called for the creation of a three-tier government apart from the national and county governments.

Joho advocated the adoption of the Bomas Draft Constitution which had proposed 12 regional governments, and the retention of the 47 county governments.

Kiraitu, while addressing the BBI team when they visited Meru last month, said the few positions in the Executive had led to deadly political contests that promoted tribalism.

The governor said this is the right time to call a referendum as the current president would have no vested interests.

Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu has called for an investigation into how the last three elections were conducted to be able to build a peaceful and cohesive nation ahead of the 2022 polls.

Speaking at the Kitui’s Multipurpose Training Institute late last year, Ngilu said she was looking for a responsive task force that will tell and expose what exactly happened in 2007, 2012 and 2017 elections that left Kenyans divided along tribal lines.

Shrink ethnicity

When BBI team visited Makueni, residents advocated for the number of political parties to be reduced and to adopt the kind of politics the West practises to rid the country of ethnicity.

They said this was the only way of curbing rigging and electoral manipulation after political parties come together to form alliances.

Tiaty MP William Kamket – a close ally of Kanu Chairman and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, also has a Bill pending in the National Assembly that seeks to create the Office of the prime minister who will be elected by the National Assembly and will have two deputies.

The task force is moving around the country to collect views on how to end nine areas of concern that were identified by Uhuru and Raila.

[Report by Protus Onyango, Rawlings Otieno and Moses Nyamori]

referendumBuilding Bridges InitiativePrime Minister