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It’s defining moment today for BBI Bill

By Moses Nyamori | February 23rd 2021

Nairobi County Assembly plenary during debate and passage of BBI Amendment Bill on February 17, 2021. [Samson Wire, standard]

Kenyans are likely to go to a referendum earlier than projected in the event President Uhuru Kenyatta and his handshake partner Raila Odinga get the backing of the BBI Bill today.

The expectations are that once the threshold of 24 counties is attained, the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020, will be introduced in both the National Assembly and the Senate without delay.

This implies that should an additional 12 county assemblies approve the proposals by the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) today, the push to amend the Constitution would move to the two Houses of Parliament.

So far, 12 counties have endorsed the proposed changes with 22 more assemblies expected to debate it today to either approve or reject it.

The counties debating the BBI today are Nyeri, Nyamira, Meru, Embu, Makueni, Machakos, Kitui, Kirinyaga and Migori. Others are Kilifi, Garissa, Nakuru, Mombasa, Taita Taveta and Isiolo. These counties are also expected to take a vote on the document.

Lower Eastern region county assemblies of Machakos, Makueni and Kitui yesterday unanimously agreed to pass the Bill when it comes up to their respective assemblies this morning.

Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli yesterday hosted Raila and Jubilee Vice Chairman David Murathe in his home for a BBI monitoring strategy meeting.

According to Atwoli, the meeting received reports from various county assemblies ahead of today’s vote.

BBI co-chair Junet Mohammed, who also attended the meeting, said they have lined up a series of political rallies starting March 1 to drum up support for the constitutional reforms.

The secretariat, Mohammed added, will from tomorrow release a schedule for the referendum campaigns.

He also hinted that a major political alliance was in the offing, which will midwife the Uhuru succession.

“We are coming up with a mother of all political coalitions for the 2022 elections... Our slogan is gather all, scatter none,” he said.

The latest development comes against the backdrop of a pronouncement by National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi that MPs only need about three weeks to debate the Bill.

This means the document is likely to be subjected to a referendum before June as had been projected by the BBI secretariat.

The team co-chaired by Mohammed and former MP Dennis Waweru had projected to have the Bill introduced in Parliament by April 6 before the planned plebiscite by June 6.

Constitutional lawyer Bobby Mkangi yesterday explained that once 24 county assemblies vote in support, the decision by the remaining assemblies becomes inconsequential.

Mkangi said the Constitution does not compel the Speakers of the two Houses to receive communication from each of the 47 assemblies before introducing the Bill on the floor of the Senate and the National Assembly.

According to Article 257 of the Constitution, if a county assembly approves the draft Bill within three months after the date it was submitted by the electoral commission, the speaker of the county assembly shall deliver a copy of the draft Bill jointly to the speakers of the two Houses of Parliament, with a certificate that the county assembly has approved it.

And if a draft Bill has been approved by a majority of the county assemblies, it shall be introduced in Parliament without delay.

Yesterday, National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi said they expect the Bill to be introduced in Parliament once the threshold is attained.

Mbadi said since each of the assemblies are required to communicate to Muturi and Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka immediately after taking a decision, the speakers are expected to communicate to the two Houses once the number is attained.

“When the speakers get the required numbers, there is nothing that compels them to wait for the other assemblies. As soon as we get the 24 assemblies, we will move to slot it in the two Houses,” said Mbadi.

“There is no condition that all counties have to communicate. For the assemblies that will have failed to communicate within the 90 days, it will be deemed that they have rejected the Bill,” he said.

He explained that the moment the two speakers communicate attainment of the threshold, the Houses will begin debates, which he said should not take more than a month.

Similar views were shared by Jubilee Secretary General Raphael Tuju and Baringo North MP William Cheptumo, who said there was no legal requirement that all the assemblies have to make a decision before the document can proceed to the next stage.

“Just like in the case of the required one million signatures, the moment you reach the threshold there is no constitutional requirement that you wait for more assemblies. The other counties would be free to continue with the process but ideally there would be no further need to wait,” said Tuju.

Cheptumo, a former Justice and Legal Affairs chairperson, said the reading of the law is that once you obtain the threshold, there is nothing that stops the matter from being introduced in the two Houses of Parliament.

The lawmaker, who is also an ally of Deputy President William Ruto, said the country needs to dispense with the referendum issue as soon as possible to allow it address the battered economy.

Yesterday, Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua hosted his Makueni counterpart Kivutha Kibwana where they jointly chaired a closed-door meeting with about 60 MCAs drawn from the two county assemblies and later declared they will pass the Bill.

Kibwana, who is among several national politicians and professionals opposed to the constitutional amendments under the banner of Linda Katiba, said he had considered the will of the people of Makueni to allow the Bill to sail through, citing numerous milestones to be realised under the new arrangement.

However, he made it clear that the support of BBI in Makueni was a citizen-driven process and not sycophantic obedience to certain political godfathers.

“The BBI Bill is not a matter for a certain politician to chest-thump and attribute its success to his or her influence for political expediency. As the elected representatives of the people, we are duty-bound to do what is in the best interest of the people and that is why our people have demanded our inclusion in the BBI process,” Mutua said. [Additional reporting by Erastus Mulwa and Stephen Nzioka]

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