The task of nation-building belongs to every single Kenyan. The Constitution lays down clear ground rules that should underpin this nation-building. From time to time, these rules need amendment to meet the needs of changing times.
The proposed amendments from the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) are timely and critical for present-day realities of building a better Kenya. I do not hold brief for either the President or former Prime Minister. I am just a Kenyan who has studied the proposed BBI amendments and found them to be critical cornerstones for building a better Kenya. A Kenya where your last name will not deprive you of opportunity. A Kenya that will meet the needs of her children in an equitable, sustainable fashion. In his recent State of the Nation address, President Uhuru Kenyatta spoke movingly about this better Kenya that we can build, ‘Every journey starts with a single step, taken in faith, at times against all odds. That journey has commenced with the release of the Building Bridges Initiatives Report. Major changes are needed to our Constitution and other laws so as to lay the foundation for the prosperous future that we seek.’
This prosperous future can be unlocked through many of the proposals contained in the BBI report. Imagine a scenario where your personal data – whether it’s your phone number, your health status or any other aspect of your personal data – is so sacred that not even the government can just swoop in and scoop it. BBI has proposed an amendment to Article 31 so that the right not to have personal data infringed will be constitutionally secured.
Even more critical, do you remember how corruption charges against powerful people never stick? They show up in court for a few sessions and then their cases eventually wither and disappear. The BBI’s proposed Article 80(aa) will put an end to this unfortunate scenario. It calls on parliament to pass laws that will ensure speedy investigation, prosecution and trial of cases on leadership and integrity.
Imagine yet another scenario where well-qualified and highly motivated women are occupying at least one-third of seats in the National Assembly and Senate. Because they are right there, in our country’s legislative factory, they are able to ensure transformative legislation that makes a lasting difference in our society. BBI has proposed amendments that will ensure compliance with the two-thirds gender principle.
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Edward R Murrow, the American broadcast journalist once said that, “a nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.” Indeed, passive meekness amongst the populace only feeds an appetite of greed and exploitation in the government. We need to replace our passive meekness for courage that can yank back the government every time it wanders away from its primary role of serving Kenyans.
BBI’s proposed ‘Leader of Official Opposition’s’ office will galvanise Kenyans in constructive criticism that will keep the government on its toes. Many Kenyans are however, asking – do we really need a Prime Minister? What is this office’s value addition to Kenya’s governance? Are we just adding yet another layer of bureaucracy in a government that is already overly bureaucratic? These are pertinent questions that deserve honest answers. BBI proposes a Prime Minister that shall be the leader of government business in the National Assembly.
The proposed Office of the Prime Minister will free the President to focus on the more visionary business of transforming Kenya and not just the wheeling and dealing that is the currency of the National Assembly. This will breathe a new lease of life into vision 2030 and substantially enhance the government’s ability to realize this vision. Considering that the President will be the one to appoint the Prime Minister, does BBI create an imperial president? No it does not. Rather, it empowers the president to govern without looking over his shoulder. Besides, the President will only abuse his or her power if the three arms of Government, together with fifty million Kenyans, allow him to do so.
Are there other constitutional amendments that I wish had been captured in BBI? Yes. Are there proposed amendments that I disagree with? Yes. For instance, I don’t agree with the proposed amendment of Article 97(1) to change the composition of National Assembly from 290 elected members to 360. But despite my misgivings with a few proposals, I am persuaded that the totality of BBI’s proposed changes are robust building blocks for constructing a better, more prosperous and united Kenya. Think green, act green!
-The writer is founder of Green Africa Foundation. www.isaackalua.co.ke