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Punguza Mizigo has already won referendum race

By Daisy Maritim Maina | July 20th 2019

The Building Bridges Initiative can now pack their bags and go home. The ‘Punguza Mizigo’ people have already won the race to the referendum. They are the champions of this political long distance race, and they will receive their gold medal by July next year. I say this for many reasons.

First and most importantly, Punguza Mizigo did intensive training and preparation. They did their homework. Their Constitutional Amendment Bill was carefully crafted not to fail. Each hurdle presented by Article 251 of the Constitution is met with an irresistible proposal in the Punguza Mizigo Bill.

The first hurdle: Attaining the signatures of at least one million registered voters in support of the draft bill. This was an easy jump. Just naming the bill Punguza Mizingo was enticing enough to garner one million signatures. In fact they exceeded it by four hundred thousand. Hurdle cleared on the 18th of July 2019.

The second hurdle: The consideration and approval of the Bill by County Assemblies. Of course the MCAs will approve the Bill! It proposes the ward as the ‘primary unit of development.’ If we take this to mean CDF will now go to the wards, then this is a delicious deal for the MCAs. Let’s put it in perspective. In the 2017/2018 financial year, Sh31.6 billion was allocated to CDF. On average per ward, an MCA would receive Sh21.7 million a year. That is Sh108 million in the duration of their term. Which red-blooded Kenyan MCA would resist that? The counties have a constitutional timeline of three months to complete the process. So the hurdle will be jumped by October 22.

The third hurdle: The introduction and approval of the Bill in Parliament. Although the National Assembly will not particularly love this Bill, the Senate has everything to gain. The Bill proposes that the Senate be elevated to an upper house with veto powers. But even if for some reason the Senate is not seduced by this proposal, there is back up for Punguza Mizigo. The Constitution states that if either house fails to pass the Bill, the proposed amendment shall be submitted to the people in a referendum. Hurdle jumped.

The fourth hurdle: The introduction of the Bill to the president for assent, or to request the IEBC to conduct a referendum. Here the president is compelled to ‘do the necessary.’ But either way, a referendum is inevitable. The Constitution states in Article 255 that a proposal to change the term of the president must be put to referendum.

The last hurdle: The People. The IEBC will have 90 days to conduct the referendum. Given the constitutional timelines, this will take us to mid 2020. Will the people vote in favour of Punza Mizigo? Of course.

The proposals read like a list of long awaited goodies for Kenyans: A one-term presidency, a life sentence for corruption convicts, chop the number of MPs by more than half… Irresistible! In fact, no one can publicly denounce it without looking unpatriotic or mischievous.

But finally, Punguza Mizigo will succeed because the ‘powers that be’ thought that it would not. So they ignored it. Being overlooked was the best thing that happened to the Punguza Mizigo constitutional amendment proposal. This is because it was left alone long enough to set off a process that cannot be undone. ‘Nobody’ paid attention.

As the Building Bridges Initiative sojourned around the country listening to wananchi pouring their hearts out, Punguza Mizigo had set in motion a constitutional process. As others were preoccupied with ‘fake letters’ and assassination schemes, Punguza Mizigo was working towards July 2020.   

- The writer is a PhD candidate in political economy at SMC University. [email protected]

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