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Why IEBC must verify Okoa Kenya referendum signatures

By ELIUD OWALO | January 31st 2016 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

The Okoa Kenya referendum drive is unstoppable. After Jubilee administration responded with an emphatic “NO!” to Opposition calls for national dialogue, the stage for a constitutional amendment process was set.

At Uhuru Park on July 7, 2014 (Saba Saba), CORD supporters resolved to start a movement, Okoa Kenya, to address issues affecting the welfare of Kenyans and push for necessary constitutional amendments.

Through an intricate, consultative and constitutional process, Okoa Kenya secretariat identified various clauses in the Constitution of Kenya (2010) requiring amendment.

And because the initiative is meant to benefit all Kenyans across regions and religions, across ages and gender and across socio-economic and political persuasions, Okoa Kenya chose the popular initiative route to the proposed constitutional amendment.

Through this process, any Kenyan can propose constitutional amendment provided that he or she is supported by at least one million registered voters. The proposer is supposed to present a petition to the IEBC supported by one million signatures and accompanied by a draft constitutional amendment Bill. On November 9, 2015, Okoa Kenya submitted well over 1.4 million signatures to IEBC.

In conformity with the constitutional requirements, the petition and signatures were accompanied by a draft constitutional amendment Bill.

A lot of time and resources were spent to collect the signatures and comply with the law. The IEBC, through its Deputy Chairman, publicly pledged to verify the signatures and submit the Bill to counties as required by the constitution within the 90-day window, which closes on February 14, 2016.

Throughout this process, the Okoa Kenya Movement has undertaken its activities within the law, while constantly updating the IEBC on its signature collection activities. On its part, the IEBC did not just approve the signature collection format, but also pledged to abide by provisions of the Constitution in regard to the same.

As CORD continued to await conclusion of the exercise by IEBC, the electoral body has emerged with a different story. Dr Ezra Chiloba, the CEO, now says IEBC has a shortfall of cash and may therefore not be able to complete the verification of Okoa Kenya signatures in time.

Matters are made worse when Chiloba gives unsolicited and unconstitutional suggestions to the effect that to save money, the referendum question could be included in the 2017 election ballot papers. This is unacceptable.

There have been clear indications right from the start of a grand conspiracy to frustrate and stall the Okoa Kenya constitutional amendment bid. We still vividly remember that a court had to dismiss an application to halt the referendum signature collection process filed by Kieni MP (Jubilee), Kanini Kega. Now the IEBC is trying to place illegal and unnecessary hurdles in the way of the Okoa Kenya referendum bid.

Dr Chiloba is advised to read article 248 of the Constitution, which aptly articulates the objects, authority and funding of commissions and independent offices.

The three most vital objects of these unique bodies are to protect the sovereignty of the people; to secure the observance by all State organs of democratic values and principles; and to promote constitutionalism. The commissioners and independent office holders are subject only to the Constitution and the law and are independent and not subject to direction or control by any person or authority, not even the Executive.

IEBC is further advised that in the best interest of stability, peace and prosperity of this country, it must adhere to and respect the Constitution.

If Dr Chiloba and his team at IEBC find it difficult to execute the constitutional mandate of the electoral body, the most honourable thing for them to do would be to quit voluntarily instead of messing up and waiting to be forced out in disgrace.

As an independent commission, the IEBC is required by law to interpret and apply the Constitution without undue influence from any other arm of Government. According to the law, if either of the two houses of Parliament fails to pass the amendment Bill, the Bill shall automatically be submitted to the people for approval through a referendum.

My fear is that if by February 14, 2016, the IEBC will not have completed verification of the signatures, they shall not only stand accused of sabotaging constitutional provisions, they will also be setting the stage for a fierce political and legal battle between Kenyans who want a review of the Constitution and those opposed to it.

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