PNU, ODM clash over new constituencies
By Beauttah Omanga
Wrangling between PNU and ODM has paralysed the work of Parliament’s Justice and Legal Affairs Committee and could block the creation of 80 new constituencies.
The same bitter party rivalries scuttled efforts to create the electoral units last year after attempts to gazette them by the now defunct Interim Independent Boundaries Review Commission (IIBRC) fell victim to disagreements in the Grand Coalition Government.
Parliament then took over the process but attempts by members of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee allied to PNU to force out the chairman has paralysed its work and created acrimony.
The Justice committee is critical to fast-tracking Bills such as the one to establish the Independent Boundaries and Elections Board, which is to take over the work left pending by the Andrew Ligale-led IIBRC.
The PNU-allied members of the Justice Committee have petitioned the Clerk of the National Assembly to convene a special meeting to carry out elections to replace the Budalang’i MP. Upset by the Speaker’s ruling last month that President Kibaki’s nominations of individuals to four key constitutional offices were irregular, PNU enlisted the support of rebel ODM MPs to force out Namwamba.
The Clerk of the National Assembly Patrick Gichohi received the petition on February 23, but the dispute is yet to be resolved.
To defend Namwamba, ODM has written to the Clerk of the National Assembly saying it will replace two of its members on the committee who have sided with PNU.
Sources said House Speaker Kenneth Marende tasked Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim, who heads the Liaison Committee, to resolve the dispute, but a meeting is yet to be convened.
Meetings to elect committee chairmen are supposed to be convened by the Liaison Committee.
Besides the IEBC Bill, the committee is tasked with critical legislations including the Supreme Court Bill that would see the establishment of the highest court in the country.
The 11 member Committee has not met formally, following disagreements that erupted during the standoff between president Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga over the nominations, including that of Chief Justice last month. MPs who signed the petition to unseat Namwamba include George Nyamweya, Nyamweya, Mutava Musyimi, Amina Abdala, vice chair, Njoroge Baiya, Abdikadir Mohammed, Isaac Ruto and Eugene Wamalwa.
On Monday, Nyamweya said they were not ready to meet under the chairmanship of Namwamba.
"We are late in clearing the pending issues dealing with the bills on the judiciary, the Electoral Laws, and others that we must dispense with as a matter of urgency. We will not meet under Ababu’s chairmanship," said member George Nyamweya.
In the letter to Gichohi, ODM Chief Whip Jakoyo Midiwo said Chepalungu MP Isaac Rutto and nominated MP Sofia Abdi would be replaced by Sotik MP Joyce Laboso and nominated MP Rachel Shebesh.
As the dispute in the committee rages, Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee chairman Abdikadir Mohammed on Monday moved to calm fears of more delays in the implementation of new laws.
"We are not in a crisis yet, but it is my plea that when we resume, the House will dispense with the boundaries and election administration Bills as a matter of urgency," said the Mandera Central MP.
According to him, the IEBC Bills was ready and only waiting for tabling when Parliament reopens. He said the forthcoming bills would state clearly how the successor electoral Commission members will be appointed and their terms of service.
He, however, said a major difficulty would be how to conclude the work already started, but left halfway by the Ligale Commission.
He said he expected MPs to soberly handle the boundaries issue to comply with the new Constitution that requires establishment of 80 new zones.
It also emerged that the 80 new constituencies are exempt from a rule that requires new electoral areas to be formed two years before a General Election.
The new law exempts the current process from a mandatory requirement that in future, new units be in place at least two years before general elections are held.
On his part, the chairman of the Commission on Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) Charles Nyachae said the committee and Parliament at were under obligation to enact necessary laws to ensure that institutions are put in place for the next elections.
He said his team held consultations with the committee on key issues to be included in the draft laws.
Said Nyachae: "The country requires in place urgently laws regarding the elections, such as the establishment of the electoral authority, conduct of polls and management of political parties in good time."
The chairman of the Interim Independent Electoral Commission, Isaack Hassan also said that he expects Parliament to prioritise laws necessary for the 2012 elections.
"We are optimistic that when Parliament resumes business, the MPs will give preference to the electoral bill and have a new body in place. Preparations for the next elections ought to start now," said Hassan.
Hassan said his team had plans to register all Kenyans in the Diaspora who will be participating in the next General Election.
"To capture about three million Kenyans out there is not an easy task, and the earlier those preparations commence the better," he said.
Given that Kenyans would be for the first time electing eight representatives at a time, he called for thorough preparations, most preferably through electronic means, to speed up the process.
South Mugirango MP Manson Nyamweya said new constituencies should be created within this year.
"Whichever way we look at it, we must get new constituencies before next year which is an election year," he said.
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