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BBI: Like in a buffet, don’t eat everything

By Andrew Kipkemboi | October 26th 2020

“What do you eat first?” Many of us wrestle with this question on a buffet queue. The experienced ones know that there is so much good stuff ahead of the queue and will always pick a little of what is necessary.

The real deal is finding the right balance between quality and quantity. A lot of what is served is nutritious, a lot more is pure trite, literally. And so it is with the recently released Building Bridges Initiative report.

Critics of BBI decry the duplication of the contents of the 2010 Constitution. It was expected that the BBI Taskforce would tap and channel genuine grievance over the politicisation, partisanship and incompetence in public service. After all, many believed the Uhuru-Raila handshake was premised on the realisation that of itself, winning an election would not advance the development and the unity agenda by not constraining the greed of the elites or upholding the rights of the voter to decide who leads them. 

Many applauded that the political class had finally been persuaded to confront one of democracy’s faults: Dictatorship of the proletariat, which hands over unchecked power to a bunch of self-serving politicians.

Yet a first reading of the BBI report gives one the impression that it was made for now, not for the future Kenyans yearn. Its biggest handicap is it does not ring-fence our democracy.

Worse still, a lot of the proposals are tactical rather than strategic. BBI’s Achilles’ heel is that it does not transport our imaginations beyond President Uhuru Kenyatta, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto.

It promises a complete departure, yet we risk arriving at the same spot from where we started the journey. That largely explains why many are less sanguine about its prospects.

Yet BBI has some nice thoughts: The seven-year tax break for SMEs and the HELB loan moratorium; the Public Finance Laws that seek to give stealth to the anti-graft crusade – including prompt payment of pending bills, besides opening up the economy, sound noble and make great sense, but hardly translate into anything without hard capital and jobs. There is no mention of ways to borrow less or perhaps ensure prudent use of borrowed funds.

And so one never misses the paralysing feeling of de javu. Lest we forget that the knock-out blow – to all our problems; real and imagined - that the 2010 Constitution promised mutated into a powerless gesture as the political class scurried for ways to get around the Constitution. Remember the campaign to expunge Chapter 6 or the fight over the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014?

Moreover, BBI does little to demystify the (wrong) notion that government’s job is to do big things for its people. The world over, societies are doing away with big government - or Leviathan - because it slows down things.

What Wanjiku really wants is things working. For example, poor-to-low income Kenyans pay for education and healthcare out of their pockets. Don’t forget that food, transport and housing costs still remain prohibitive. Alas, BBI doesn’t demonstrate how that burden will be lifted or made easy.

Corruption feeds off a big government, which by its very nature – of many layers - is slow, tedious and costly.

The ringing endorsement of 2010 Constitution was a vote against a bloated, expensive and ineffective government. BBI gets nowhere near that. What is the pressing need for 42 assistant ministers even before we audit the rationale for all those CASs?

The reason why devolution strikes a right chord with many is because it is responsive and agile. Devolution has given voice to the disillusioned masses - those who feel left behind by democracy because their voice doesn’t matter. It ought to be reinforced, not weakened.

So how do we get out of the dark economic blackhole the Jubilee administration - assisted by ODM - has driven the country into? How do we cure the tribal rifts? How do we make the centre less attractive and therefore minimise the fierce competition? How do we hold the feet of the leaders to the fire to ensure little room for monkey business?

Obviously, by not making the presidency imperial and creating more political seats. Pulling more chairs to the table without baking a bigger bread will cause a scrum. You succeed by creating a system of checks and balances that reinforces the doctrine of separation of powers. BBI seemingly takes that away.

The sprinklings of good intentions of BBI are like the setup at a buffet: the cozy lights, the fresh, green vegetables and the ever-smiling waitress – all are meant to draw you to the food. As for the taste, you will find out at your table. And so, like in a buffet, the decision of what to serve oneself rests with you.

Mr Kipkemboi is an Associate Editor at The Standard. [email protected]

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