Deputy President William Ruto and leaders allied to him have supported the BBI referendum but made new proposals that place them on a collision course with President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga.
They were addressing the press after a meeting at the DP's official residence in Karen, Nairobi.
Using the non-confrontational language of "consensus building and non-contested referendum," they presented further changes to the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020 whose net effect would be the revisiting of the BBI and further changes to the final report with implications on the referendum timelines.
Predictably, the proposals were rejected by Raila Odinga strategist and ally Suna MP Junet Mohamed who is a BBI Secretariat co-chair most likely indicating the position of his principal.
Minutes after the Ruto press conference, Mr Junet told KTN that the changes proposed by the Ruto side were time-barred because the secretariat had already collected millions of signatures in support of the initiative.
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Addressing the press alongside some 146 legislators and seven governors, Ruto said he wants the vote on the BBI referendum to feature in the 2022 General Election as the seventh ballot with multiple questions.
He expressed his concerns on the dwindling economy occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic saying the Government should channel the Sh14 billion that is set to be used in the referendum towards fighting the pandemic.
“We are saying as responsible leaders, we are in the middle of a pandemic, we are in a financial crisis. We want a candid discussion, to be persuaded why we can't do the referendum in 2022,” he said, adding such a decision will reduce costs.
Ruto’s camp also wants the BBI report to address the following; bring back 47 Woman Representatives in the National Assembly, reduce the bloated parliament as it will be a burden to the taxpayer and scrap the appointment of Judiciary Ombudsman by the Executive.
“We all agree that accountability is central to every arm of the government. We are proposing an Ombudsman be appointed in a manner that Judiciary is comfortable with. We must also hold them to account.”
On the nomination of women, he said: “We are of the view that we want women leaders to be voted in and not become token leaders. We want elected women. Apart from 47 elected in Senate, we want the same in National Assembly reducing the number of nominations.”
He further said Kenyans should be given room to vote for issues and not the personalisation of groupings depending on who leads YES or No as used in 2010.
“If we make the referendum 6/7 questions, Kenyans can easily vote on their preference as they do during the General Elections.”
The leaders have maintained their stand that there is room to improve the document before subjecting Kenyans to a vote next year.
“We believe it's never too late to do the right thing. We are making a proposal on the size of parliament and executive. Kenyans are concerned about how much it will cost to run the government”
The consultative meeting of the leaders comes a week after the launch of the signature collection drive for a constitutional referendum by President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga.
Ruto was missing at the event but he appeared to show lukewarm support for the report.
Ruto had found himself in a tricky situation with his watchers waiting to see if he outrightly supported the report or opposed the drive altogether.
On Saturday, in what appeared to be an about-turn move, the DP said it was a constitutional duty to assist his boss, the president.
But he has also said it is still possible to achieve consensus even after the signatures collection was launched.
President Kenyatta has on several occasions called out his deputy for failing to support BBI, a process he says Ruto was part of from the beginning.
On October 26 during the BBI launch at Bomas Ruto put a strong case for his position on the BBI report as it was launched at the Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi.
He said the real elephant in the room was the post-polls winner-takes-it-all mentality which the BBI was trying to address by creating the position of the Prime Minister and two deputies but wondered how that would take care of other big political heavyweights who would still find themselves without political offices.
He said even with interventions such as loans and tax holidays recommended in the BBI, the root cause of poverty among the youth was unemployment which was why agriculture had to be central in the report with certain interventions such Guaranteed Minimum Returns (GMR) for farmers being put in place.
On the BBI recommendation that the Ombudsman of the Judiciary should be nominated by the President, Ruto said that would reduce the independence of the court system and called for more budgetary allocations to the judiciary saying five counties didn’t have High Courts.
Ruto said that this might take the country back to the dark days, where the president used to issue guidelines to judges in some cases via a mere phone call.