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Testing time for party loyalists over Aukot Bill

By Standard Team | Jul 22nd 2019 | 4 min read
President Uhuru Kenyatta (centre), his deputy William Ruto (left) and Opposition leader Raila Odinga are yet to comment on the Punguza Mzigo Initiative that seeks to amend the Constitution. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

The country's top political parties are at crossroads over the direction to take on the referendum push.

The Punguza Mizigo initiative by Third Way Alliance has seen Jubilee and Orange Democratic Movement leaders read from different scripts.

Jubilee leaders in the National Assembly have openly differed with their counterparts in the Senate. This is driven by the perception that the Punguza Mizigo Bill makes enticing offers to Members of County Assembly and the Senate at the expense of National Assembly. The cracks in both parties are widely testing party loyalties even as the Bill goes to the County Assemblies.

National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale has urged county assemblies to reject the Punguza Mizigo Referendum Bill. Duale, speaking in his Garissa Township Constituency at the weekend, said the passage of the Bill would be detrimental to pastoral communities, which comprise the majority of his constituents.

Overwhelmingly approve

“Pastoralists are not ready to pass the Bill if it will reduce MCA seats and constituency-based seats. If members of the Garissa County Assembly pass the Bill, we shall deal with them as a community,” Mr Duale warned.

Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen exposed the confusion in Jubilee when he contradicted Duale and called on MCAs to overwhelmingly approve the Bill "to remind all and sundry that devolution and its institutions matter."

Senate Deputy Speaker Kindiki Kithure also hinted that senators might support the Bill if only to slight their National Assembly counterparts. "Those who think they will kill devolution are in for a rude shock," he said.

Nandi Governor Stephen Sang yesterday added his voice in support of the referendum push, saying political seats at national and county levels should be reduced to have more resources directed to service delivery.

"We are going to support Dr Aukot’s proposed referendum that will have more resources directed to development and citizen empowerment. We are in full support of Punguza Mizigo initiative because we are not going to engage in a referendum process that gives more seats to politicians,” said Mr Sang.

In ODM, key leaders vowed to oppose the Bill, even as some county assemblies in their strongholds promised to pass it.

Yesterday, ODM chairman John Mbadi (Suba South) described the Bill as populist with no real solutions to the country’s challenges, and advised MCAs not to be distracted by it but wait for the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report.

In a sarcastic remark, Mr Mbadi told Aukot to submit his Bill to the BBI task-force for consideration.

“I do not see the Bill going anywhere. I don’t think our MCAs will support it. Our MCAs should wait for BBI because we can’t have two constitutional amendments at the same time. He should take the Bill to the BBI so that they are consolidated. I want to tell our MCAs not to give the Bill any serious thoughts but remain focused on the proposals to be made by the BBI,” the lawmaker added.

But Homa Bay County Assembly Majority Leader Walter Muok said they would support Aukot's Bill as it empowers devolution, which is the key reason Kenyans voted for the Constitution in 2010.

 “The Bill strengthens devolution by recognising wards as the lowest unit of development. Creation of ward development fund and increasing allocation of funds from the national government to county government (from 15 to 35 per cent) will enhance implementation of development projects by county governments,” Mr Muok said.

Some Deputy President William Ruto's allies have also vowed to fight the push for a referendum. Women leaders under the banner of "Inua Mama Jenga Taifa" caucus hit out at the referendum Bill for calling for the scraping of woman representative position. Led by Kandara MP Alice Wahome at the weekend, they accused the Punguza Mzigo initiative of not considering women.

Jubilee Party Secretary General Raphael Tuju said the outfit’s organs were studying the Bill.

“We don’t have an official position but once we take a position as a party we will communicate to our MCAs,” he said.

Speaking separately, Siaya Senator James Orengo and MPs Opiyo Wandayi (Ugunja), Otiende Amollo (Rarieda) and Samuel Atandi (Alego/Usonga) said Aukot's proposals were opportunistic and did not include views of other political players.

The leaders said the Third Way Alliance Party must be patient and wait for the report by the BBI, which is set to offer direction on the changes of law.

“We are waiting for the BBI report that has all the issues of the people. The questions in Aukot's proposals have not undergone stakeholders' consultations. Let us wait for October when we will have the BBI report and thereafter a referendum that will decide on the fate of Kenyans,” said Mr Orengo.

Bill welcome

Nyamira County Assembly Majority Leader Duke Masira welcomed the Bill and said he would table it with the urgency it deserves.

“This is a serious document, which the assembly will not hesitate to pass once it is tabled, because it is a clear road-map on reducing taxpayers' problems," Masira said.

In North Rift, some of the MCAs said the Bill favoured them and if passed would strengthen devolution to spur economic development at grassroots. Cheptiret/Kipchamo MCA Gilbert Tenai said the Bill favoured MCAs as far as devolution was concerned.

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