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Early poll looms over boundaries deadlock

BUSINESS
By | December 7th 2010

By PETER OPIYO

Early dissolution of Parliament is now a very real threat as MPs dig in and refuse to compromise over the fate of 80 new constituencies.

Even after a day-long meeting at the Kenya Institute of Administration , Nairobi yesterday, the legislators were unable to abandon their deeply entrenched positions, as divisions along party lines deepened.

At one point, Trade Minister Chirau Mwakwere engaged in heckling of his Public Service counterpart Dalmas Otieno resulting in an ugly exchange with Nyando MP Fred Outa that saw the two ejected from the meeting to cool off.

Before the discussions, House Speaker Kenneth Marende reminded the MPs that unless they resolved the stalemate, they faced the possibility of going home early to pave way for fresh legislators in tune with the mood of the country.

But his advice was largely ignored as the MPs discussed whether or not to adopt the list of 80 new constituencies prepared by the Andrew Ligale led Interim Independent Boundaries Review Commission (IIBRC).

While Budalangi MP Ababu Namwamba who is the chairman of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee told journalists that an agreement has been struck to table the report of the IIBRC’s report in Parliament, his deputy Githunguri MP Njoroge Baiya said nothing of the sort was agreed upon.

A meeting called to resolve stalemate on the 80 new constituencies did not achieve much even after leaders made regional consultations. [PHOTOS: BONIFACE OKENDO/STANDARD]

Shouting matches

"What we agreed on was to have the committee draft recommendations on the Ligale report" he told The Standard.

The one issue that rival groups of MPs were agreed on, however, was the need to fast track the formation of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. A Bill that would establish the new body, the MPs said, must be fast-tracked to deal with the new electoral units, so that it beats the deadline for creating the new units at least a year before the General Election as required by law.

The meeting at the KIA that was attended by more than 100 MPs, was marked by shouting matches between those in support of the Ligale report and those who opposed it.

Earlier in the morning Marende told the MPs if they did not get a quick resolution for the stalemate, the country could head into a snap election.

Mandera Central MP Abdikadir Mohamed who is the chairman of the Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee said MPs should not bank on the option of amending the new Constitution to renew the tenure of the IIBRC. "We do not want to go that route. We have the ability to get a solution," he told them.

During the meeting, a proposal to present the Ligale report together with recommendations in Parliament was reportedly passed by acclamation.

"The Legal Affairs committee will prepare a report on the new units, so that it can be adopted along with the Ligale report," said the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chairman Ababu Namwamba. He said it was agreed that the differences over the report could be addressed in Parliament, and the yet-to-be created Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission would consider the report with the amendments.

But Public Works Assistant minister, Mwangi Kiunjuri disputed the proposed deal, saying it is unconstitutional.

Adopt list as it is

The retreat was dotted with disagreements, with one group, largely from Central and Eastern provinces, preferring the new commission to take over the work done by the IIBRC, while MPs from Rift Valley, Nyanza, Western, North Eastern and Coast wanted the list adopted as it is.

Mwakwere is said to have been uncomfortable with Dalmas Otieno’s support of the IIBRC for having done a good job, and heckled his colleague incessantly before Outa joined in and engaged the Matuga MP in a shouting contest.

Mwakwere later told journalists that he does not agree with the Ligale-led Commission and that it is better Parliament is dissolved if MPs cannot agree. "I would rather Parliament is dissolved and we go to elections rather than cheating ourselves here that we will agree," said Mwakwere.

But one thing is clear though; the power of numbers will determine what happens in Parliament when the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee takes the floor on the boundaries issue.

Earlier, the MPs listened to presentations of the boundaries review from two experts, Prof Francis Aduol and J Sakaja. The experts are said to have agreed that 80 per cent of the work done by the Andrew Ligale-led team was good.

As much as the experts disagreed with the 20 per cent of the work by the Ligale team, they said the Commission might be having reasons for it.

Baiya said the Justice Committee would come up with recommendations that would be discussed in Parliament.

"The way forward is to form the independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. The task for our committee now is to give a commentary on the Ligale report" he told The Standard.

He said if the country would adopt the 290 constituencies as recommended by the Ligale commission, we would end up with "85 new constituencies that break the law and 43 that are over the population limit".

During the meeting, when it became apparent that MPs were not near a consensus, they broke up into groups to discuss the way forward.

Those who want Parliament to adopt the list as it is said the new team would not make any difference, and that problems would still emerge, while there counterparts were of the view that the body would be neutral in its endeavor to give the country new Constituencies.

Premature election

At the start of the meeting, the possibility of premature elections were put across to the legislators should Parliament fail to roll out the implementation of the new Constitution.

The MPs were told to put the interest of their country first during the deliberations on deadlock surrounding the creation of the new 80 electoral units.

Marende and Namwamba told the more than 98 legislators that they risk the consequences of facing a premature election should Parliament fail to implement the new Constitution.

Article 261 of the new Constitution provides for dissolution of Parliament it misses the timetable for passage of 49 Bills that seek to implement the new Supreme laws.

Disagreement over the new electoral units have sabotaged parliamentary business, halting the passage of crucial Bills that seek to implement the new Constitution.

Marende told the legislators they have no choice but to unlock the deadlock, as Mandera Central MP and Chairman of the Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee, Abdikadir Mohammed ruled out the possibility of a first amendment to the Constitution to extend the term of the Interim Independent Boundaries Review Commission.

"This is a make or break meeting. We don’t have much choice we must find a solution," said Marende when he officially opened the meeting.

Before the meeting, some MPs had been calling for the amendment to the Constitution to extend the term of IIBRC, while others want the yet-to-be created Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to take over the process of reviewing the new boundaries. Others were calling for the adoption of the IIBRC report as it is, regardless of the dissent.

But it was the latter two options that stood out in the meeting.

Said Abdikadir, on the proposal for amendment: "I think it is too early to go that direction to solve this problem."

The deadlines for the establishment of the Revenue Allocation Commission and Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution have elapsed. The latter was to be formed by November 27 while the former was to be in place by November 25.

"Kenyans are watching our movements from ever so close, and we cannot afford to dash their hopes, expectations and aspirations. Let us keep the focus on the direction of the wishes of the people of Kenya," said Marende.

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