As a supporter of citizen-led initiatives, I was excited when I read the general suggestion that was presented by Thirdway Alliance to enable them collect the one million signatures.
I am actually number 574,692 in the list of those who signed the petition because most of the issues outlined in the proposal were acceptable in principle. I must commend Dr Ekuru Aukot’s team for their indefatigable energy in driving this important process. The general suggestion has now been reduced into a Bill.
Having read the Bill, I must regretfully express my disquiet on some of the contents which I wish to discuss this week. I have four major concerns. The first is on the reduction of constituencies, from the current 290 to 47 and the reduction of Members of the National Assembly to 100 and Senators to 47. While I totally support the reduction of MPs not just for costs but also to enhance efficiency, I regret that the proposal to base representation of both houses on counties as currently constituted defeats the Constitution’s own principle set out in Article 81(d) that requires fair representation and equality of the vote.
That principle had been reinforced by Article 89(5) which limited the differentials in population between constituencies to ensure that no place was under- or over-represented. If the Bill goes through, the County of Nairobi with its three million inhabitants and the County of Lamu with its one hundred thousand people (2009 Census) will be represented by two MPs equally.
Considering that Parliament makes major decisions on citizens’ welfare, including the division of revenue between counties, this will lead to manifest injustice and unfairness and will subvert the very Constitution it seeks to improve.
My second concern is that the Bill proposes to abolish all nominated seats in both Parliament and the County Assemblies.
While the new arrangement where each constituency will send two MPs, a male and female member, resolves the gender issue in the National Assembly, the Senate and the County Assemblies will be left at the mercy of the electorate. We are still a male centric-country where a woman has to fight 10 times as hard to get elected as does a man.
I can bet my pension that we will have a minimal number of women elected into the Senate and the County Assemblies. There can be no greater injustice than for a country to knowingly and deliberately diminish the fortunes of one sector of society for no reason other than prejudice. The very essence of the Constitution was the feeling by many that they were excluded from participating in the affairs of the nation.
How would a Constitution that preaches equity and justice include processes that reverse the gains that women have made in the last 10 years? Shame on those who cry against injustice but celebrate the “cutting down to size” of women leaders. If we tolerate, by law, injustice against women, or to any sector of society, we will be accepting that injustice is acceptable as long as it affects others, until the day injustice visits us.
My other major concern with the Bill is the elevation of the Senate to be the Upper House. While the current weakened state of the Senate is unacceptable, it makes little sense to elevate one house to be the upper house if their source of mandate is the same. The Senate is less representative anyway, from the gender angle. The proposal fails to appreciate that the National Assembly acts the way it does because of its symbiotic relationship with the National Government. This new arrangement will just transfer the symbiotic relationship to the Senate and not resolve our quagmire.
The final concern is on abolishing the deputy governor’s position. The Constitution requires that the entire Executive goes home once a governor vacates office. That would include the person who was acting as deputy. The counties would be left with no Executive leadership until the election, which could be an unmitigated disaster. Let the assemblies debate the Bill, but make an informed decision. That they owe to their voters, politics aside.
- The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya