Referendum likely, merge bids and work towards cutting cost

The cheer that met promulgation of the 2010 Constitution has fizzled out. Like all good and well intentioned things, there were bound to be inherent weaknesses in the new Constitution that have only now begun to manifest. In itself, that led to calls for a referendum to rectify the weaknesses.

Needless to say, with a parliamentary representation of 416 elected leaders in a country of 46 million people, our leadership structure is top heavy. Yet despite that number of representatives, service delivery at whatever level has remained wanting. Indeed, it is that realisation that prompted the Thirdway Alliance party to seek a constitutional amendment through its ‘Punda Amechoka” rallying call.

The Constitution can only be amended if a petitioner raises a minimum one million signatures of registered voters, or if more than two thirds of Members of Parliament approve a change motion. Signatures raised for such an endeavour must be verified by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the custodian of the county’s electoral register.

Tough as these measures may seem, they are necessary as a safeguard against abuse by a few individuals who may wish to change the country’s supreme laws to suit their selfish designs.

Reliably, the Thirdway Alliance has met that threshold and IEBC is said to have conducted the initial verification process.

Running some of the signatures against soft copies to ensure there has not been any foul play during the collection of the signatures is what now remains.

Should IEBC approve the Thirdway Alliance’s constitutional amendment bill in two weeks’ time, it shall have set the ball rolling for a referendum. The process will start at the county assemblies and be escalated to the bicameral Parliament.

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The Thirdway Alliance amendment bill seeks to reduce the number of MPs from 247 to 100 and those of Senators retained at 47 elected; only phasing out the nominated ones.

Besides, given the MPs propensity to unilaterally increase their salaries and perks without regard to prevailing economic conditions, or seeking the approval from the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), the constitutional amendments seeks to cap the pay of MPs at Sh300,000 so that everyone who seeks office knows what is in the bargain.

Kenya’s wage bill, estimated to have hit the Sh650 billion mark in the 2017/2018 financial year is clearly unsustainable. In 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto took cognisance of this fact and publicly announced they would take a pay cut to encourage civil servants to emulate them.

Sadly, MPs would have none of it. Instead, they have taken every available opportunity to award themselves more money, even when their input does not match what they take home as remuneration.

This burden is passed on to the tax payer who, ironically, is swamped by the high cost of living, job cuts, poor pay where they can find work and, for the growing number of educated youth, unemployment. For the common man, it is all gloom, for there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Admittedly, reducing the number of MPs would reduce the wage bill in a big way.

Whatever reduces the burden of taxation on citizens is welcome if it has the corresponding result of improving their lot. This is important because, elsewhere, calls for a referendum have been made.

In fact, the Building Bridges Initiative that came into force after the handshake between President Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga on March9, 2018 could be working to pave way for a referendum on the governance structure.  

The creation of additional offices to accommodate competing political interests could come at an additional cost to taxpayers, and that is the last thing Kenyans want.  

For once, focus should be on making the common citizens happy and patriotic enough, not just pampering leaders who seek public office for what they can get out of it, not for what they can deliver. The reconstitution of IEBC, currently operating without some commissioners and a Chief Executive Officer, is critical to holding a successful referendum should need arise. And if it comes to a referendum, merging all the bids is the way to go to cut costs.

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