One of the amazing realities in Kenya is that politically defined agendas are so loud that they always drown all other conversations, however progressive the latter may be. Nowhere is this reality clearer than in the current discourse about changing the Constitution. This week there was what appeared to be a strategic leak of the BBI constitutional amendment proposals and the matter made headlines. There was extensive analysis on implications of the proposed changes, even as BBI disowned them.
Many people seemed to assume they were fait accompli. While the BBI drama has been going on, Dr Ekuru Aukot’s Thirdway Alliance has been round the country and has accomplished what a more deep-pocketed ODM was unable to accomplish, the collection of over one million signatures and preparation of a draft Bill for amendment of the Constitution.
The IEBC confirmed this week that the Thirdway Alliance had met the constitutional threshold for presentation of the proposals for the amendment bill to the County Assemblies where it is required that 50 per cent of the Assemblies vote in favour of the Bill for it to go forward. I am not a conspiracy theorist but would the tenacity of this little team have ruffled enough feathers to invite the attack on their headquarters yesterday? I pray investigations will reveal all. I believe that time has come for Kenyans to discuss these proposals since so far they are the only cogent, thought through proposals for changing the Constitution that are on the table.
While one may disagree with some of the “punguza mzigo” proposals, it is admirable that they have a theme; the reduction of the cost of governance structures, enhancing accountability and strengthening devolution. What then are the critical aspects of the Ekuru amendments?
Firstly the amendments seek to reduce the number of Members of the National Assembly and Senate from 416 to 147. The proposals also seek to address the ballooning cost of maintaining our elected representatives by fixing remuneration of MPs to Sh300,000 and the President to 5Sh00,000 and giving the Salaries and Remuneration Commission to adjust other public servants accordingly. It also caps the other expenditures of Parliament. Kenyans will be united in supporting this proposal. Constitutions hardly ever fix such salaries by numbers but this proposal responds to our unique circumstances where MPs will use all tricks in the book to enhance their salaries.
The initiative also removes all nominated seats in Parliament and County Assemblies and deals with the gender issue by requiring that each County elects one man and one woman. Herein however lies punguza’sgreatest weakness. It fundamentally goes against the “one person one vote” principle. Kakamega County with its almost 2 million population will have the same number of representatives as Lamu County with its 100,000 residents. This is grossly inequitable. A more prudent approach would have been to go the America way and allocate seats on the basis of population, at least in the National Assembly while leaving the County based seats to the Senate.
Devolution supporters will be pleased by the proposals to increase allocation to Counties from the current 15 per cent to 35 per cent. With devolution under consistent assault by the national government, this is a welcome proposal.
The initiative also seeks to deal with prosecutions and appeals in corruption cases which it requires to be finalised within 60 days from commencement and that those convicted be jailed for life. It also requires that all persons mentioned adversely in audit reports be barred from office. Finally, the initiative abolishes the need for voter registration by converting the ID to be the basis of participating in elections. This will obviously raise challenges in geographical allocation of voters but this can be dealt with administratively. The matter now heads to our spirited MCAs. Dr Aukot will need multiple skills to cross this hurdle. All in all we must commend Thirdway Alliance for going the beyond typical Kenyan talking points and giving us actual proposals that we can adopt or reject.
- The writer is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya