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Why MCAs hold key to referendum

Third Way Alliance party leader Dr Ekuru Aukot (in glasses) collects signatures from members of public in Nakuru town during his Punguza Mizigo referendum campaign initiative. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Ward representatives have vowed to support a constitutional amendment that proposes to reduce the number of MPs from 416 to 147.

The Punguza Mizigo (Constitution of Kenya Amendment) Bill has hit the one million signatures required under the law.

The Bill is currently with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for verification of signatures.

Once done, it will only require the backing of at least 24 counties to propel it to the next crucial stage. But it will be the end of the road for the Bill should majority of the county assemblies vote to reject it.

Yesterday, the County Assemblies Forum (CAF) - a conglomeration of the 47 county assemblies - said its members will support the Bill should the electoral commission forward it to them.

A growing number of senators have also backed the Bill, which also proposes to elevate the Senate to the Upper House with veto powers.

But their counterparts in the National Assembly have vowed to reject it, signaling a build-up of a political storm around an impending referendum campaign. 

Still, rejection by Parliament will not stop the Bill from being referred to a referendum.

Yesterday, the Thirdway Alliance, which claims verification of signatures showed its initiative had attained the legal threshold of one million signatures, demanded that IEBC makes public the results and submits the Bill to county assemblies without further delay. 

Thirdway Alliance party leader Ekuru Aukot argues that should the Bill be passed by the electorate, it will drastically reduce the public wage bill.

Thirdway Alliance

Thirdway Alliance also argues that should the Bill pass, the country will save Sh155 billion in five years by reducing the size of Parliament; Sh5.6 billion by abolishing the deputy governors' position; and Sh30 billion by abolishing nominated positions. 

The Bill proposes to save taxpayers another Sh20 billion by adopting a one-term presidency.

Its proponents further argue that by capping salaries, the country will save Sh24 billion in five years, while Sh25 billion will be saved by automating voter registration. In addition, up to Sh50 billion will be saved by automating general elections.

In his Bill, Dr Aukot argues that by severely punishing those who steal public money, the country will be saving Sh3.5 trillion.

“The 'Punguza Mizigo' proposed constitutional amendments will save Kenyans Sh3.78 trillion, which is higher than the current national annual budget. With this money, we will be able to meet the pay demands of nurses, teachers and doctors and even create jobs for our growing youth population,” reads part of the Bill. 

The 47 county assemblies will stand to benefit if they pass the Bill since its proponents seek to use wards as primary units of accelerated development.

The Bill's backers say this will give all Kenyans across the country, including those living in the furthest wards, equal access to such services as schools, hospitals and roads as enjoyed by those living in urban areas.

The Bill also seeks an increase of counties revenue share allocation to at least 35 per cent from the current 15 per cent.

“Devolution of more funds therefore will ensure that each county or community will not need a 'negotiator' to get access to public services. With inclusivity attained at the ward level, majority of Kenyans may not care who actually becomes president,” states the Bill.

Faster growth

Kajiado County Assembly Speaker Johnson Osoi, who is the assemblies chairman,  yesterday said ward representatives will support the Bill since it recognises wards as units for faster growth.

Mr Osoi, whose term expires in the next two weeks, argued that no county assembly would oppose the proposal to increase allocations to counties to 35 per cent.

According to Osoi, should the Bill be passed, it will "cure the mischief of county governors out to punish some wards for not voting for them".

“We will fully support a Bill such as this one. Even if it’s from Aukot, Jubilee (party) or from any quarter, we will support,” said Osoi.

Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr said that the Bill is in tandem with Senate's proposal to increase funding to counties and give more power to senators.

“The Bill, coming from a member of the former Committee of Experts, is an admission that the current Senate is not properly structured to protect counties,” said Mr Mutula.

Senate Justice and Legal Affairs chair Samson Cherargei (Nandi) said any Bill that supports elevation of the Senate to be the Upper House with veto powers is welcome and will get the backing of the House.

Oversight role

Mr Cherargei argued that the dynamics, matrix and legislative powers of the Senate should be amended to strengthen its oversight role.

“Some of the provisions in the proposed Bill are similar to the Constitution of Kenya Amendment Bill 2019 proposed by the Senate. This is a Bill that we will support,” said Cherargei.

Nairobi County Assembly Minority Chief Whip Peter Imwatok (Makongeni) said he agreed with the Bill's proposals to make wards units for development, noting that this would take essential services closer to the people. 

“We support the bottom-up approach of development of the smallest unit area of representation. If citizens get water, roads, healthcare and electricity at the ward level, we will not go to kneel down before a governor when we need services,” said Mr Imwatok.

Imwatok warned that although ward reps might support elevating the Senate to be the Upper House, care must be taken to set high standards for senators.

National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi dismissed the Punguza Mizigo initiative, stating that Parliament will not support a Bill that is not based on political consensus.

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) chairman said amendments to the Constitution can only be done through broad consensus involving all political players and not through "an individual seeking political relevance".

Political greenhorn

He described Aukot as a "political greenhorn who cannot steer a referendum".

“You don’t wake up one day and seek to change the Constitution. It requires consensus.

“He (Eukot) doesn’t have any following in the country to steer a referendum. I don’t see the initiative going anywhere. Both the county assemblies and the National Parliament will not approve it,” Mbadi said.

He described some of the proposals in the Bill as simplistic, stating that reducing the number of MPs was not a solution to the country’s wage bill.

“It is a fallacy to think that cutting the number of MPs will reduce the wage bill problem," he said.

Nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi also raised concerns over lack of inclusion of all political players in formulating the Bill.

The lawmaker said Aukot should have waited for the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) to conclude its work since it was "more inclusive" compared to the 'Punguza Mizigo' initiative. He said the Bill was being being pushed by one political party.

“The process seems rushed because if you asked me, they should have waited for the BBI, which is a more inclusive process. Inclusivity is key to any amendments to the Constitution. To be fair to them, they are only seeking attention,” said Mr Osotsi.?

Download the BBI Judgement by all seven Judges - Civil Appeal No. E291 of 2021
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