People need civic education on key provisions of Constitution

Koki Muli

On February 7, the Clerk of the National Assembly advertised some proposed constitutional amendments, inviting the public to submit their views and memoranda under the Article 256 of the Constitution. The advertisement gave times, dates, the venues, invited public to forward memoranda. Its target —  less than ten per cent Kenyans who speak English; can afford a newspaper or a computer; and already know and understand the provisions of the Constitution that need to be amended. Forget the other 90 per cent who voted overwhelmingly for change – a new Constitution, which they still do not know its content.

Article 256 requires that Parliament must publicise and facilitate public discussion of any Constitutional Amendment Bill, not requiring a referendum, they introduce. The clerk assumes that “public” has received sufficient civic education on the content of the Constitution and understands the provisions proposed for amendments and why or why not and he is inviting a knowledgeable public to engage in a meaningful discussion with CIOC. In fact, only the objectives of the amendment Bill have been published in the advert – no specific direction or content of the amendment is included; assuming that “the uniformed public” should fill in the blanks! Asking an uninformed public to present views and memoranda on amending provisions in the Constitution that they do not know exists and why they should be amended is irresponsible and unfair to them.

Parliament has not “publicised” and “facilitated public discussion” in the meaning of the amendment Bill. The entire contents of the proposed constitutional amendments must first be publicised as they are now in the Constitution – alongside – the proposed amendments (as published in the Gazette, which only a few access) – not just the objectives. It is the responsibility of the Government, and in this case, Parliament – to publicise the entire content and to facilitate meaningful and genuine discussion by the public of the proposed amendments. The developing tread of leaving the public behind to catch up with their leaders must stop.

Parliament should also not propose to make unnecessary amendments. There is no justification to change the election date in the Constitution – it should be left as is – “the second Tuesday in August in the 5th year.”

A brief insertion to Schedule 6(9) stating that the first election should be held in December 2012 suffices. Kenyans had a reason to want an August date for elections. Don’t deny them that choice through an unnecessary amendment. The intended amendment of Article 89(9) aims to delete “come into effect on the dissolution of Parliament” and replace it with “take effect for purposes of the general elections.”

This amendment is not necessary because already, Schedule 6 section 27(3) of the Constitution provides that “the requirement in Article 89 that a review of constituency and ward boundaries shall be completed at least 12 months before a general election does not apply to the review of boundaries preceding the first elections under this Constitution”.

Meaning boundaries for the first elections, will come into effect as stipulated in Schedule 6 of the Constitution and Schedule 5 of the IEBC Act.

A massive civic education programme on the Constitution is absolutely necessary. It will explain the necessity for amendments such as those required under articles 90, 97, and 98 of the Constitution, without which the provisions cannot be operational. The public has a very important role to play in the implementation and protection of the Constitution – they must know its contents. It is in the interest of Parliament and our leadership that the people they lead/govern understand and embrace the Constitution – the social contract. The public will also own governance, making it and accountability easier.

The writer is an elections and constitutional law expert and lecturer, South Eastern University College

Related Topics