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BBI presents a great opportunity for fresh start at the Coast

By Suleiman Shahbal | October 27th 2020

At the Coast, mangoes are sold in a ‘pakacha’ (a woven basket that holds 10 to 15 mangoes that you can see clearly between the weaves). Packing the pakacha is an art; you have to show the big mangoes and hide the smaller ones in-between. If you are lucky you will get bigger mangoes than the small tasteless ones. 

This is the case with the BBI report. There are enough good points to make me like it and not enough bad points to make me reject it. So, like the pakacha, I’ll have to live with it. BBI has given the youth reprieve on the early repayment of Helb loans, the setting up of a Youth Commission and other goodies. Who can reject these?

The underlying principle behind the launch of BBI was to unite the country and to correct the wrongs of the past. No one can fault that principle. The concept of inclusivity is a very unifying factor and the need to tame the imperial presidency is something that Kenyans hoped would be achieved with the 2010 Constitution. Then came the tyranny of numbers and the rejection of 50-plus one. That is the democracy that we bought in 2010. So what’s new in BBI that wasn’t there in 2010?

I presented a petition to the BBI Commission calling for proportional representation and insisted that any party with even 10 per cent of the vote would automatically and by right be in government. Clearly this would have led to a Nusu Mkate government. Even the small tribes would have had a  permanent seat at the high table.

BBI is creating a prime minister and two deputies; all appointed (and can be fired) by the president. How does this equate to power-sharing? Clearly, if their election or appointment is through Parliament, then the majority party would elect the prime minister. With the recent tightening of the whip by both ODM and Jubilee, parliamentarians would have to toe the line or else.

The only redeeming factor is that the PM and his deputies would work under the scrutiny of Parliament. It would be good to see a prime minister being grilled in Parliament since we cannot question the president. If DP William Ruto’s earlier rejection of BBI was a fear of his potential presidential powers being trimmed by BBI, then he should now be celebrating. The imperial presidency is safe and sound.

The formal recognition of the Head of Opposition is neither here nor there. It does not constitute any respect for a powerful opposition. The Leader of the Opposition in the United Kingdom is “informed or consulted” of major government decisions – but whether he opposes or supports will not stop the government from doing what it wants to do. We have not moved away from the winner-take-all syndrome. It will come back to haunt us.

What is truly exciting is the increase in county budget allocation from 15 to 35 per cent. This is a huge increase that will allow counties to make meaningful development. It is a great opportunity for the Coast to finally walk away from years of marginalisation. The challenge now is to ensure that we elect leaders who can drive the investment and development agenda and not people who seek self-enrichment and to build projects of no economic value.  

Let us also ensure that this will not end up being a transfer of the 35 national functions to the county governments and a transfer of salary commitments that would end up eating all the funds now devolved. Our legislators will also have to watch the remaining 65 per cent of the national budget and ensure that we get our proportionate share of development funds when they are being spent.

The allocation of funds to ward development is a fantastic movie. In 2013 and 2017, I campaigned for the creation of ward funds in Mombasa. It is the people on the ground who understand the needs of their respective wards. It is also an opportunity to start grooming leadership for national service from the ground up. Community involvement in the utilisation of these ward funds will be critical for the success and to ensure that funds are not abused.

On the basis of the last two points alone, I will campaign for the adoption of BBI. It is good for the Coast. With the increased financial resources, we can change the Coast within the next 10 years. There are other points that we do not agree with that will hopefully be amended before the final draft. Let us not stop ‘Reggae’ just because there are a few songs we do not like. This is an opportunity that we must not lose.


Mr Shahbal is chairman of Gulf Group of Companies. [email protected]

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