By Alex Ndegwa
Parliamentary Select Committee cleared final copy of the Proposed Constitution that Attorney General Amos Wako publishes tomorrow after going through it with a toothcomb. Satisfied Wako kept his word he would only edit it, ensure it is coherent, and the chapters flow well, PSC gave the verdict that set the stage for the referendum and closed the door to any amendments before the plebiscite.
PSC team led by Chairman MP Mohammed Abdikadir who is the Mandera Central Member of Parliament gave Wako the green light to hand his copy to the printer hours to the closure of the ongoing voter registration. PSC Chairman Mohammed Abdikadir
PSC Chairman Mohammed Abdikadir
"I confirm there were no substantive changes. Majority were editorial and were either correction of typographical errors or rectifying cross referencing of the chapters," Abdikadir told The Standard on phone, after the meeting ended.
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He added: "From the outset the AG told us he wanted to be on the side of caution and had thus not made any major alterations."
Wako took the 25-member committee through all the revisions he made during a daylong closed-door meeting at Parliament Buildings.
PSC checked against the initial draft as approved by Parliament on April 1, to ensure the alterations were permissible.
Abdikadir reported the AG was keen to avoid a repeat of the debacle by in 2005 when major alterations of the Kilifi Draft by drafters under his watch led to the resounding defeat of the Government-backed Draft Constitution in the November referendum.
From then accusations stuck he mutilated the Bomas Draft at the behest of allies of President Kibaki, thereby denying Kenyans a new constitution.
Wako, when he received the draft from PSC, assured the nation he was not going "to alter the draft in any way except for editorial purposes such as commas".
Behind his assurance lurked the sad memories of 1992 when he mischievously altered the electoral laws, thereby shortening the campaign period and helping Kanu to get the opposition flatfooted, without going through Parliament in the guise of ‘editing’.
Wako cunningly published a legal notice removing the words "a period not less than 21 days", replacing them with "a period not more than 21 days".
On Tuesday, Interim Independent Electoral Commission reported it had surpassed its target of 10 million by last Friday and expressed optimism it could hit 12 million today, when the Manual Voter Registration ends. IIEC has ruled out any extension, even though the Electronic Voter Register will remain open up to May 21.
It was not clear if IIEC is prepared in terms of staffing and equipment to handle the influx of voters who may flock the 18 EVR pilot constituencies after missing on the manual registration.
The closure of the registration today marks the next stage on the final stretch to the referendum on whose platform the 36 main Church groups, fellowships, and evangelical missions have vowed to vote ‘No’. Cabinet bound itself with the ropes of collective responsibility it would campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote.
Mr Abdikadir explained PSC was satisfied the changes effected by AG were editorial and conformed with the Constitution of Kenya Review Act 2008. It stipulates that the AG shall not effect any alteration to the Proposed Constitution, except for editorial purposes, in consultation with PSC.
Once it is published tomorrow, IIEC has seven days within which to frame and publish the referendum question. The question, which shall be framed in consultation with PSC, is to determine approval or disapproval of the Proposed Constitution and shall prompt the voter to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. It can only be promulgated into law if passed by more than half of those who will take part in the referendum.
If it were published in this format it would shut the door on those pressing for a multiple-choice referendum where voters are allowed to separately vote for each of the contentious issues.
After publication of the question the IIEC shall, within 14 days, announce the referendum date through a gazette notice alongside the campaign period.
The law also requires that within 14 days of framing of the referendum question, voter registration be halted. Manual voter registration ends today while the electronic exercise stops on May 21.
Wako waited up to the end of the 30 days given him to publish the draft after receiving it from PSC to allow for longer registration.
Upon publication of the Proposed Constitution, Committee of Experts shall facilitate civic education –involving non-State actors to avoid prejudice – for 30 days.
IIEC shall, within 60 days of the publication of the Proposed Constitution, hold a referendum. Following publication IIEC will fire the starter gun for official campaigns even as both camps have hit the campaign trail.
President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga are leading the Cabinet in drumming up support for the Proposed Constitution, while Higher Education Minister William Ruto has emerged as the political face of the ‘No’ camp.
Meanwhile at a press conference in Nairobi, European Union head of delegation to Kenya, Eric van der Linden, said EU shall remain neutral in the referendum campaign, but will support civic education.
"We are not supporting ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, but since the constitutional reform is part of the Agenda Four in the National Peace Accord, we would want to support civic education for a successful process," said Mr Linden
EU also asked the Government and IIEC to level the playing ground for both camps to ensure free and fair referendum.
"We know Kenya has a great deal of enthusiasm for a new constitution therefore both sides need to be given a fair chance for putting forward their arguments in a proper manner," said Laetitia Van den Assum, the Dutch envoy to Kenya.
"There has been a lot of misinformation, especially on issues of land and the Bill of Rights … civic education is important to make sure that people make an informed decision," argued Mr Assum.
PSC said both camps have the right to conduct their campaigns but the discourse should be peaceful and frank. "While people have the right to interpret the Proposed Constitution it should be done properly, devoid of distortions. There is a lot of distortions going on," Abdikadir said.
He said people should be alert to the law against hate speech so the country was not polarised.
Constitutional Affairs Minister Mutula Kilonzo pleaded with aggrieved parties to compromise for the sake of concluding the 20-year search for a new constitution.
"If your view is not accommodated, please do not scuttle the process," he said.
On claims foreign donors were pumping funds to the ‘No’ campaign, the minister asked Kenyans to "take the dollars" but vote with their conscience.
Mr Mutula reiterated it was too late to make any changes since that would require amending section 47(A) of the Constitution.