Claims that powerful forces were swaying voting on the Punguza Mizigo referendum initiative surfaced following its rejection in four county assemblies perceived to be strongholds of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga.
The Punguza Mizigo (Constitution of Kenya Amendment) Bill, 2019, has however received a nod from Uasin Gishu County Assembly, the home turf of Deputy President William Ruto, raising eyebrows whether its fate is tied to political affiliations.
Siaya, Homa Bay, Murang’a and Kirinyaga MCAs have shot down the Bill sponsored by Ekuru Aukot’s Thirdway Alliance in what observers see as an approval of Uhuru and Raila’s handshake deal of Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
Although Raila has openly dismissed the Punguza Mzigo, Uhuru is yet to make a public declaration on the same, but has affirmed his commitment to BBI whose report is expected anytime.
DP has been dismissing the referendum push while his allies, led by Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi, have openly urged MCAs to endorse the Bill, which requires the support of 24 counties. The assemblies have slightly more than a month to decide the bill’s its fate.
“What’s happening to the Punguza Mizigo, in the county assemblies where it has been approved, is clear manifestation of where the owner resides. The owner has now come out but we want to warn him that this thing is dead on arrival,” National Assembly Minority Whip and a key Raila ally Junet Mohamed claimed.
Kipkelion West MP Hillary Kosgei yesterday defended Ruto’s camp, saying their objection to a referendum is on record and that the DP is not backing Aukot’s cause.
He explained that MCAs, especially those in Uasin Gishu, may have passed the Bill to pass a certain message and not necessarily as supporters of Ruto since the “assembly is cosmopolitan in any case”.
“From where we sit, the Punguza Mzigo initiative and BBI is not ours. We had said that Kenya is not ripe for a referendum until we implement it fully. However, we are leaving MCAs to use their own discretion to either support or reject the Bill,” said Mr Kosgei.
Josephat Lowoi, the Uasin Gishu assembly’s leader of majority, claimed that those who have rejected the Bill “did not reject willingly but were influenced by State machinery operatives under Kieleweke”.
“In Central region of the country, Kieleweke team is influencing disapproval of the Bill, which has been done without seeking the wishes of citizens in public participation. Baba (in reference to opposition leader Raila Odinga) is on the other hand influencing Nyanza region,” claimed Mr Lowoi.
“After Uasin Gishu became the first to approve the Bill, there was a belief that Deputy President Dr William Ruto was behind it yet it is not the case,” said Ramadhan Ali, the MCA for Kiplombe and the Uasin Gishu assembly’s minority leader.
Ali added: “The Punguza Mizigo Bill is good but some of our colleagues in some regions tell us that it is rejected because the president and government are not for it, but are for Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).”
According to Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir of ODM, the support or opposition of the Punguza Mzigo Bill should be objective and based on the understanding of the suggestions and not political camp affiliations.
“It got nothing to do with Raila, Ruto or Uhuru but what’s wrong or right. How do we start to drastically start reducing electoral units? I think MCAs will have to look at the proposals and make a decision which is right for the country,” Mr Abdulswamad said.
Maara MP Kareke Mbiuki said, as a loyal ally of the DP, he would wait for directions from Ruto before expressing views.
“If the DP says we pass it, then we will campaign for it. If he says No, I will sing the tune,” he said.
National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale, a key ally of Ruto, said his support for the BBI and rejection of Aukot’s Bill have nothing to do with affiliations.
“The Punguza Mizigo Bill will be humiliated in all counties. I have personally lobbied MCAs from pastoralist communities to reject it,” Duale said.
University of Nairobi don Herman Manyora advised counties perceived as Ruto’s strongholds to shelve the Bill and observe the general trend before voting to avoid the risk if isolation.
“If the assemblies allied to Ruto pass the Bill, they will be isolating themselves. It will be political suicide for Rift counties to pass the Bill yet those in Mt. Kenya and others reject it. This will basically create a perception that DP only controls Kalenjin counties,” Manyora said.
Uasin Gishu County Assembly was the first and the only one, so far, to have approved the Bill. Four other assemblies have rejected it.
“The bill was presented to our assembly and through adherence to Article 257. We saw it and found its provisions to be helpful to the ordinary citizens because it will devolve resources to the ward levels. We took it to the public and was fully supported,” said Lowoi.
“We were never influenced in approving Punguza Mizigo Bill but did what is required of us by law when we presented it to well attended public participation forums in all 30 wards on August 27. The assembly went ahead to pass it in line with the wishes of the residents,” said Mr David Kiplagat, the Uasin Gishu County Assembly speaker.
In Murang’a, the sitting started two hours late because MCAs were holed up in a hotel for an informal session.
The MCAs finally arrived at 4pm for normal business and at 4.15pm, majority leader Erick Kamande moved the Bill, which was seconded by Kamacharia MCA Wambugu Mwangi.
The members showed rare unity, when teams allied to Kamande and Kimorori MCA Amos Murigi took a common stand against the Bill.
Reliable sources said the 53 MCAs held a lunch time meeting at a hotel, located at the border of Murang’a and Kirinyaga counties with some parties believed to be interested in killing the initiative.
None of the MCAs was willing to account for what transpired between Monday and Tuesday, citing an agreement that only the Majority Leader could speak on the issue.
[Additional reporting by Boniface Gikandi]
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