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Divided opinion over motive of extending time for BBI team

By Roselyne Obala and Wilfred Ayaga | December 13th 2019

President Uhuru Kenyatta with Deputy President William Ruto, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and the Building Bridges Initiative taskforce members when they delivered the taskforce's report at State House, Nairobi. [File, Standard]

Controversy: Weeks after receiving the report hailed by its authors as a product of extensive public consultations, Uhuru and Raila ask taskforce to collect more views. What exactly do they want? Was the report they launched a doctored version as has been claimed?

A decision by President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga to extend the term of the Building Bridges Initiative task force has sparked controversy. Some leaders said they expected a new team and others questioned the move.

Uhuru and Raila yesterday announced they have renewed its mandate with a new task of “expanding and guiding public participation and structuring recommendations into implementable action plans.” This two weeks after the team handed in its report.

But critics questioned whether public participation is really the reason for the extension.

They pointed out that the Yusuf Haji-led team declared in the report’s executive summary that the document “reflects some of the most extensive public consultations ever undertaken by a similar body in Kenyan history.”

Yesterday, the BBI taskforce joint secretary Paul Mwangi denied knowledge of the details of the extension.

“The best thing to do is to wait for the Gazette Notice. I believe it might be out tomorrow (today).  It will spell out the Terms of References and from there we can inform Kenyans on the next step,” he said when asked about the development communicated by State House spokesperson Kanze Dena-Mararo following a meeting by the two leaders at State House.

The decision has divided opinion and raised questions on why the two leaders opted for an extension of the tenure of the 14-member team as opposed to a committee of experts to steer the second phase of the process.

The development has also fueled speculation that having produced ‘an underwhelming report’ that did not satisfy those pushing for a powerful premier or a parliamentary system of government, they now have an opportunity to pull out ‘the real document.’

An expansion of the executive has been a key demand of some in the political class, who viewed it as a key pillar of the Uhuru-Raila handshake.

The team had recommended, among other issues a hybrid system of government, with a president elected directly by the people and a prime minister nominated by the president.

The report did not provide an implementation mechanism.

Political analyst Herman Manyora told The Standard he thinks the BBI report was ‘doctored’ to calm political temperatures and the extension is to buy time to strike at the right time.

“This is not the next phase. This is an extension to allow the team to release the right report. These people were just buying time and when the right time comes, they will give the guidelines for a referendum and proposal for a powerful premier,” he claimed.

He went on: “The principals want a referendum but reading the country’s mood at the time of releasing the report last month, they had to make public a document that would serve to cool temperatures.”

Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei suggested that Uhuru and Raila had opened a new battlefront in the clamour for constitutional change. “What did we launch in Bomas?” asked Cherargei on his Twitter page.

Reached by The Standard, he said: “The intention was to have some people oppose the report, but they did not succeed. Instead, it has gone further to divide the country. The leaders were not genuine in the process. What happened at Bomas was a fraud to the public.”

Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru supported the extension. “They are best suited to capture the further views and input of the public with neutrality as they are non-partisan. So far they have done a commendable job,” she said.

Ford Kenya party leader Moses Wetangula said he was surprised Uhuru and Raila decided to retain the Haji team arguing that ‘the BBI report has been clouded by issues of 2022 succession politics’.” 

“I’m surprised that the president has retained this team. I expected that this process was for sieving and synthesising of views collected from the public by the Haji team. This stage is more technical. With the retention of the team without the technocrats, it will be no different from what we had in Bomas,” said Wetangula. 

A source within the Presidency, however, explained that the extension was arrived at after carefully considering the repercussions of bringing onboard a new team.

“There were four issues that came up, including the criteria for appointing a team of experts, suspicion among key political players and limited time for implementation of the team’s recommendations. It was believed that the Haji team has already established a good infrastructure for town hall meetings. A new team would be required to establish its own infrastructure and understand the document,” he explained.

Nyeri town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, a strong backer of the BBI process, congratulated the committee “for getting the mandate to move us forward to the next phase of this process.”

Report exposed void

National Assembly Minority leader John Mbadi said the release of the report exposed a void that needed to be clarified by a committee of experts, going by the divergent views.

 “The team comprises a group of wise men and women needed to provide general guidance. The experts will incorporate the technical assistance needed and I hope they will be roped in at some point,” Mbadi said.

Head of Anglican Church in Kenya Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit said the president should have appointed a new team of experts. “What Kenyans want is more expertise on what is dear to the people. The process should take into consideration the economic and social needs of Kenyans,” he argued.

Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya said: “The team has done its work. Preferably, a team of lawyers should have been given the work to do the validation and the time pegged to two months. The lawyers should advise on the areas of the constitution that require changes and the views put together.”

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