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All eyes on Uhuru and Raila on next step for law review

By Protus Onyango | October 28th 2020

All eyes are on President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga to explain to Kenyans what the next steps for the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report would be.

The report was launched on Monday at the Bomas of Kenya and the country now awaits to hear from the handshake partners on the timelines for its implementation. 

There has been no official communication on what needs to be done to actualise the report and whether it will be subjected to more input from the public or if it moves to the implementation stage immediately.

The BBI taskforce has set a minimum of between six months and two years for the implementation of the report, which proposes policy, administrative, legislative and constitutional changes. Some analysts say if the country is to go for a referendum, then the implementation process has to begin immediately.

Team's mandate

Prof Morompi ole Ronkei, a member of the BBI taskforce, said the team’s mandate ended in June and the members are not aware of the next steps.

“According to the Gazette notice, our mandate ended at the end of June. We were ready with the report then and were only waiting for the principals to tell us when they would receive it. We did this and now we are out of the picture until we are given another assignment,” Ronkei said.

When the taskforce handed the report to Uhuru and Raila, the two leaders agreed to roll out a programme that would help implement the recommendations and their shared objectives.

The taskforce has drafted a series of proposed amendments. There are 14 Bills proposing statutory changes and 12 policy changes. It remains to be seen when this will be done, given that the next General Election is 21 months away.

House leaders were yesterday upbeat, saying the implementation process will begin immediately.

National Assembly Majority Leader Amos Kimunya said the House is ready to play its role in actualising the BBI report.

“MPs will be recalled next week and this jump-starts  the process. There is no way 47 million Kenyans can agree on a single issue. What we require is consensus and this we have. So we need to move with speed to achieve our goal,” Kimunya said.

He said whatever requires the input of MPs will be dispensed with quickly and as per parliamentary procedures.

“Majority of MPs attended the launch and are willing to support the process. As we speak, there are two committees harmonising the two Bills to do with a referendum. Kenyans can expect to have a referendum before December next year,'' said Kimunya.

He said the House is working on merging two Bills published by Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee (CIOC) and Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC) to streamline the referendum process.

Senate Majority Whip Irungu Kang’ata said the House membership will be holding a retreat from Sunday to consider the report, and especially its proposals on changes to the Senate and devolution.

Kang’ata said they will be seeking a common ground on the issues.

“We must first meet and strategise now that we have the report out. We do not have any legal timelines for anything, only political timelines. But before anything else, we need to first meet,” said the Murang’a Senator.

He said the ideal situation would be that once the Bills on proposed changes are introduced, they will be given priority in the order of business. But before that happens, he said, legislators will have to agree on the way forward on the report.

National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi said the mood in the country was supportive of the envisaged changes. He called upon Uhuru and Raila to expedite the process.

“The President and our party leader need to give us an official schedule of this process. The Bills that need to be drafted should come fast enough so that we have a referendum by April next year,” Mbadi said.

He said the process will not face hitches because it has support across the country.

“No county will refuse to vote for more money and no MCA will oppose the creation of a ward fund. This is an easy process and those spreading lies about the cost of the reforms are not genuine. We have saved money by making Cabinet Secretaries to be MPs. This is the truth,” said the Suba South MP.

Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr said what the BBI taskforce did not do was come up with an implementation timelines so that everyone knows what is to be done and within what period. 

"A major gap is failing to give a timeline on the constitutional changes envisaged in the report. A timeline is needed so that we know whether it will go the parliamentary way or through popular initiative. By August 2021, we will only have one year to the next General Election and it would be good to have the timelines so that we can budget for what's to be done," said the senator.

Constitutional lawyer Kamotho Waiganjo said there are three facets of the next steps. “The policy and administrative provisions don’t require a timeline. Tax reforms and other related issues can be done by the Executive. The Kenya Law Reform Commission can draft the Bills targeting statutory reforms and take them to Parliament,” Kamotho said.

Lawyer Charles Kanjama called for clear timelines so that the public can know whether there is room for further discussions.

Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary General Francis Atwoli said he is aware of ongoing consultations on the way forward.

“I know Uhuru, Raila and the parliamentary leadership are consulting to find a quick way forward. We are ready to popularise the document. What I know is that Kenya will go to the 2022 elections with a new Constitution,” Atwoli said.

The BBI taskforce has mandated the President, Raila, Judiciary, Parliament and the counties to ensure the report sails through. [The writer is a 2019/2020 Bertha Fellow]

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