Ruto, Raila agree on four issues but yet to thrash out cost of living

National Dialogue Committee co-chairs Kalonzo Musyoka (left) and Kimani Ichung'wah at the Bomas of Kenya, September 2023. [Samson Wire, Standard]

The National Dialogue Committee has agreed to establish the office of the official leader of the opposition and entrench the office of the Prime Cabinet Secretary in the Constitution.

Speaking at Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi, on Thursday, the committee co-chairperson Kimani Ichungwa said the government and opposition have reached a consensus on four issues even though the crucial matter of the cost of living remains a hurdle.

“We have by and large reached agreements on critical matters, including the establishment of funds and the offices of the Prime Cabinet Secretary and the Official Leader of the Opposition. We have also found common ground on issues related to political party fidelity,” said Ichung’wa.

The consensus follows the committee’s review of a report by the technical team on specific issues, where there was no divergence of opinion between the two teams.

The co-chair emphasised that the specifics of the discussions could not be disclosed at this time since the talks are ongoing.

Ichung’wa hinted at the possibility of concluding the process within the 60-day timeline set by Parliament but said further evaluations might be needed.

Chocking cost of living

However, Kenyans will wait longer for relief from the choking high cost of living as members of the committee grapple with persistent disagreements on the issue.

National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi expressed optimism that they will reach a consensus on all issues. “We have made tremendous progress, especially today, on the four areas Ichung’wa has highlighted, and we have arrived at a consensus in those four areas. We are expecting that at the end of the day, we are going to be able to reach a consensus on all the issues,” he said.

Even though the team has remained tight-lipped on the actualisation of the said issues, Kenya Kwanza government has come out publicly to push for the establishment of the office of Prime Cabinet Secretary, the office of the leader of the opposition and entrenching of the National Government - Constituency Development Fund (NG-CDF), the Senate Oversight Fund and the Affirmative Action Fund in the Constitution.

Nonetheless, these matters have faced significant criticism and opposition from majority stakeholders who presented their memorandums to the committee two weeks ago. The primary focus of their input was the call to address the soaring cost of living.

United Democratic Alliance (UDA) through its Secretary General Cleophas Malala submitted a proposal to the committee championing the creation and entrenchment of the positions of official leader of the opposition and Prime Cabinet Secretary into the Constitution.

The ruling party is also lobbying for the amendment of the Constitution to entrench the NG-CDF, the Senate Oversight Fund, the Affirmative Action Fund and two others the Ward Enterprise Fund and the Ward Equalisation Fund.

During the presentation of their memorandum to the committee, Azimio did not object to these issues but deferred it back to the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which was declared illegal by the Supreme Court in 2020.

“Azimio’s position on these issues is well known (BBI) but it has misgivings about the intention of Kenya Kwanza and cannot trust their leadership to midwife successful amendments to the constitution,” reads Azimio’s memorandum.

The committee members are divided on a number of issues including an audit of the 2022 presidential election, restructuring the IEBC, boundaries delimitation and cost of living.

Azimio had demanded an audit of last year’s presidential elections and the entire electoral process but Kenya Kwanza contends that an audit of the electoral process alone suffices.

“We are open to discussing audit of the electoral process of Kenya because we need to be as fair as possible in the subsequent elections,” said Malala.

However various stakeholders endorsed a thorough examination of the issue, with many proposing that both audits are essential. Former Attorney General Amos Wako recommended an audit of the electoral process to ensure transparency in future elections and granting the public access to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) servers.

Opening servers

“It should be very clear to whoever comes to assist us that the servers should be opened. We can only do that if we make it law,” said Wako.

While advocating for the establishment of new state offices in law, the Kenya Kwanza team was silent on the issue of the cost of living, which has triggered public criticism due to government policies labelled as excessive taxation.

This has been Azimio’s central concern, which played a pivotal role in the anti-government protests against the implementation of the Finance Act 2023. This Act resulted in an eight per cent increase in VAT and introduced the contentious Housing Levy.

The committee is scheduled to convene today for further discussions on the remaining contentious matters.