The role of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) in internal security could go a notch higher if a proposed new Bill becomes law.
The KDF Amendment Bill 2015, if enacted into law, will give express authority to the Chief of the Defence Forces to deploy KDF in civilian operations.
The move significantly shifts operational and command powers currently vested in the Inspector General of Police (IGP).
Similarly, the Defence Cabinet Secretary (CS) will not play a major role in the delegation of civilian functions to the Chief of staff.
The Bill, at publication stage, has the hallmarks of the composition of disciplined forces in Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Sudan, where there are no clear cut delimitation of the functions of the police and military.
In Uganda and Ethiopia, for instance, the Army is deployed during elections to man polling stations. The proposed law is expected to draw resistance from Opposition, human rights groups and even within government circles.
The Bill also envisages establishment of an auxiliary reserve force comprising Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and National Youth Service (NYS) to serve alongside the KDF.
“The president may in situations of emergency or disaster or during war, unrest, or disaster, order that the auxiliary forces comprising forest guards and NYS be employed to serve with KDF or otherwise in the defence of the nation whether within or outside,” reads the Bill.
CORD leaders have recently accused the Jubilee administration of allegedly trying to militarise the NYS.
The opposition has been at loggerheads with the government over deployment of KDF to conflict prone areas like Kapedo and Turkana and accused the military of committing atrocities against local.
Under the Bill, the KDF boss has immense powers to monitor implementation of policies, operations and directions issued to service commanders.
National Assembly Deputy Minority Leader, also a member of the parliamentary Defence Committee, Jakoyo Midiwo has accused the Jubilee administration of allegedly introducing despotism through legislation.
The Gem MP said the proposed law is unconstitutional and if enacted it would be challenged in court.
“The Executive is creating a Homeland Security docket through the back door to bring back former Chief of Defence Forces Julius Karangi from retirement.
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This is not acceptable,” he said accusing the Executive of trying to create a military state.
The Bill proposes that government should not be held to account as regards compensation to families of KDF personnel who suffer disabilities or death while undergoing training.
But Leader of Majority in Parliament Aden Duale said the Bill is constitutional and had been taken through stakeholders forums including constitutional bodies and the office of the Attorney General.
“As the Majority Leader,... I have just published it, the minister and the government will defend the Bill before the committee of Parliament. MPs have powers to amend, reject or pass the Bill. People should not just make noise. MPs should wait for their turn to come and make their contribution,” he said.
Under the new Bill, the President has the power to extend the terms of office for the chief, vice chief and service commanders of KDF for a period not exceeding one year.
The Bill also seeks to extend the retirement age of the KDF chief from 62 to 64 years.
“The President may, on the recommendation of the Defense Council, extend the term in office of the Chief of the Defense Forces, the Vice Chief of the Defence Forces or the Service Commanders for a period not exceeding one year,” reads the Bill.
The council will direct and oversee deployment of KDF as authorised under this Act and also develop criteria for the recruitment, promotion and transfer of members of the Defence Forces.
The bill abolishes requirement for KDF to advertise slots as per counties. It also insulates KDF operations, including appropriation of its budget and functions, from public scrutiny by denying Parliament the oversight role.
However, Parliament would oversight deployment of troops in various operations.
Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar Hassan accused the Jubilee administration of attempting to militarise the state.
“The functions of KDF and the National Police Service are clearly defined in the Constitution. While the military’s role is to ensure territorial integrity, the police maintain law and order within our borders.
But we are seeing a situation where Jubilee is trying militarise all the disciplined forces. As a signatory to the Geneva Convention, Kenya is bound by the treaty not to use military for civilian duties,” Omar said.
He criticised Jubilee for denying the public access to information regarding the military budget.
“We are headed back to the dark days. We are seeing a return to the oppressive days when the state was accused of serious human rights violations,” he said.
“The Bill proposes to amend section 285 of the KDF Act and repeal section 289 of the same law, which stipulates that KDF should not hold accounts separate from those by the Ministry of Defence,” reads the Bill.
This means that KDF will have its own vote independent of the ministry’s budgetary allocation as appropriated by the National Assembly.
The law currently requires the CS to table an annual report in Parliament and to the Executive, which includes itemised statements on utilisation of public funds by KDF, but the Bill proposes to quash this requirement.
In a bid to ensure activities of KDF remain a closely guarded secret, the proposed law seeks to repeal section 290 of the Act to avoid the publication of Defense Council matters deemed to be prejudicial to national security.
The Bill seeks to streamline the governance structure of KDF to ensure it is efficient and orderly.