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BBI prepares report as Kenyans' hopes swell

By Geoffrey Mosoku and Brian Otieno | October 1st 2019 at 06:55:00 GMT +0300

Building Bridges Initiative Chairman Yusuf Haji makes a point during one of the taskforces' sittings at Maasai Mara University in Narok County in February. [Robert Kiplagat, Standard]

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) team yesterday went on a retreat to prepare a report that it will present to President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The team that was constituted after the March 9, 2018 handshake between Uhuru and opposition chief Raila Odinga, has promised recommendations that will foster unity.

Already, leading politicians are divided on a proposal that the team should recommend a referendum as a cure for all the country's social woes - negative ethnicity, political antagonism, corruption, among others.  

Speaking at his Karen offices yesterday, Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka said the recommendations must be directed towards unifying the country first.

“People must be able to interrogate those recommendations and see how unifying they are," said Mr Musyoka.

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"We need to create a country free of corruption and other ills.”

Aden Duale, the majority leader in the National Assembly, said he expects the BBI team to propose a system where minority communities are not left out of government.

He said distribution of resources must also be equitable.

"What I support is a pure parliamentary system of government. We must do away with the presidential team. A parliamentary system will ensure inclusivity in government," Mr Duale said.

The Garissa Town MP also opined that BBI should propose a 45 per cent allocation of funds by the Exchequer to counties.

 Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, the head of the Anglican Church in Kenya, said the Church will support changes that serve the interests of Kenyans.

“My church and I will support any changes that will benefit Kenyans," Sapit said.

"We want the poor, the youth and the unemployed to be at the center of these changes. Let us run away from selfish politics.”

Unsustainable debt

The cleric also averred that BBI should address the issue of unsustainable debt.

"The country is chocking in debt. We will support reforms that addresses the debt problem."

 The BBI team was formed in the aftermath of the disputed 2017 general elections following a political truce between Uhuru and Raila.

Raila last week asked Kenyans to prepare for a referendum. He said he expects the team to change the system of government from presidential to parliamentary.

Deputy President William Ruto has been on the forefront in opposing the referendum push, saying it is part of a callous plot for "some people to take power through the backdoor."

Yesterday, lawyer Paul Mwangi who co-chairs the BBI secretariat refused to comment on what the team will discuss at the retreat.

He instead asked people to be patient as the team puts final touches on the report.

 “There is no need to panic since we have enough time to the October 24 deadline," Mr Mwangi said.

"I want to assure the country that the report will hit the deadline."

Another member of the BBI  team, Maj (Rtd) John Seii, expressed confidence that the report will make proposals which will end political divisiveness in the country.

“This will be a wonderful document that will restore hope. We urge all Kenyans to support it," Seii said.

The taskforce was holed up in a secret hideout believed  to be either in Nairobi or Kajiado County.

Delving into the debate, Senate Minority whip, Mutula Kilonzo junior said violent political competition can only be fixed though a just electoral system.

He noted that only a referendum can bring such a system.

“This winner-takes-it-all mantra can only be fixed by a just system where even election losers take part in the running of the government," said Mr Kilonzo.

Murang’a senator Irungu Kang’ata opined that some of the possible changes in the structure of government should not occasion a referendum.

He said this is because they are not protected by the constitution.

“If we were to change the functions of parliament it would require a referendum," Mr Kang’atav said.

"However, adding new positions like the position of Prime Minister does not need a referendum.”

Political clout

Former Constitution of Kenya Review Commission Chairman Yash Pal Ghai argued that creating position such as Prime Minister in a parliamentary system will require a referendum.

“The position of the Prime Minister is much more important than of the Chief Administrative Secretary, which the President created without an amendment to the law," said Prog Ghai.

"It is very political to begin with, and generally enjoys great political clout.”

Former member in the Committee of Experts (CoE) , Bob Mkangi argued that the expansion of government by creating new positions will not necessarily require a plebiscite.

“If it is just the creation of the Prime Minister position with the presidency remaining intact, then there will no need for a referendum," said Mr Mkangi.

Another member of the CoE said the cost of a referendum is cheaper than bad governance.

[Additional reporting by Titus Too and Protus Onyango]

CoE BBI President Uhuru Kenyatta. Raila Odinga
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