Explainer: What happens when the president withdraws a Bill?

President William Ruto during the 59th Jamhuri Day celebrations at Nyayo National Stadium on December 12, 2022. [Kelly Ayodi, Standard]

President William Ruto bowed to public pressure on Wednesday, June 26, and declined to sign the Finance Bill 2024into law.

Ruto agreed to withdraw the controversial Bill after reaching a unanimous agreement with lawmakers at the State House, Nairobi. His decision has since sparked a debate on whether the president has the authority to withdraw a bill.

Understanding Bill Withdrawal

According to Law Insider, bill withdrawal refers to the decision by the sponsor of the bill to discontinue its passage. When this occurs, the House ceases further consideration of the bill.

National Assembly Standing Order 140 states that a bill can be withdrawn either before the commencement of business or the order of the day for any stage of the bill being read. The MP in charge may, without notice, claim to withdraw a bill.

Additionally, if the MP in charge of a bill desires to withdraw it before it is introduced in the House, the MP shall, in writing, specify the reasons for the withdrawal and notify the Speaker.

The Speaker should ensure that the claim to withdraw is not an abuse of the proceedings of the House.

If a bill passes its third reading and is presented to the President for assent, the President can only refuse to assent.

Article 115 of the 2010 Constitution states that the Head of State can refuse to assent to a bill but does not provide for its withdrawal, as has been widely claimed on social media.

When the President refuses to sign a bill into law, he must formally refer it back to Parliament in writing to the Speaker of the House, outlining his reservations within 14 days.

Legal Interpretation

Lawyer Ochieng Odinga notes that the 2010 Constitution gives the President the power to only refer a bill back to Parliament for reconsideration while noting any reservations he has concerning the bill.

Reiterating his sentiments, Constitutional Lawyer Charles Kanjama explained: “Withdrawal of a bill is dealt with in the standing order. Once the President refuses to assent to it, he needs to write to the Speaker indicating his reservations.”

According to Kanjama, if in his reservations the President recommends that the bill be completely rejected, the Speaker will have to agree to it first before proceeding with the withdrawal by the mover of the motion.

Kanjama’s remarks were backed by Lawyer Kennedy Echesa who noted that: “A bill is a property of the House. It can only be withdrawn within the context and procedures laid down under parliamentary procedure. The Executive cannot purport to withdraw the bill.”

Who Withdraws the Bill?

Mukurweini Member of Parliament John Kaguchia noted that only the Chair of the Finance Committee, in this case, Molo MP Kimani Kuria, can withdraw the bill on the floor of the House.

Once the bill is withdrawn, the Speaker introduces the President’s memorandum to the House through a formal communication.

Parliament's Option

Parliament can then choose to amend the bill in light of the President’s reservations or pass it a second time without amendment. This must be done within seven days, requiring a two-thirds majority vote.

If Parliament is in recess, as it currently is, the Speaker can call for a special sitting at any time, depending on the urgency of the matter. However, this session must be gazetted.

Next Steps

Once recalled, the Speaker will notify MPs of the President’s decision and table the memorandum. Lawmakers then have seven days to decide whether to pass the bill with the President’s reservations. Whatever decision Parliament makes, Speaker Moses Wetangula will re-submit the bill to the President for assent.

If the President fails to sign or refer the bill back to Parliament within the 14 days, it will automatically become law.


If two-thirds of the House vote for it, then the bill is forwarded to the President for assent. However, if the votes are less than two-thirds, the bill fails, hence a complete withdrawal.

Once it is withdrawn, the Finance Bill of 2023 will continue to be functional until another one is assented to by the President.