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Uproar as team asks for more time to present BBI Bill report

Justice and Legal Affairs Committee Chairman Kigano Muturi (left) and Okongo Omogeni wnen IEBC Chair Wafula Chebukati when appeared before the joint sitting of National Assembly and Senate Legal committee on Justice and legal affairs on the submissions on the Kenya Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020 at the Senate chambers, Parliament buildings, Nairobi [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

Fears of attempts to derail constitutional review emerged yesterday after the joint committee compiling a report on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) requested for more time to present the document.

The joint committee of the Senate and National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs was scheduled to table the report on public participation on the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment)Bill 2020, yesterday.

The team however asked leave to engage constitutional experts ‘to make the Bill coherent and fully constitutional’, kicking up a storm in the House.

Chairperson of the joint team Muturi Kigano, ignited debate on the role the House will play in the law change initiative.

Old suspicions about attempts to scuttle the Handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga also surfaced amid talk of boardroom jostling and disagreements over the stand the committee will adopt.

The committee said it had collected critical response to the law review during public participation that needed time to analyse and prepare a report.

“This is the first time the House has considered a way to amend the Constitution by popular initiative and many constitutional and legal issues were expected and have arisen,” Mr Kigano said.  

Critical issues

He added; “After public participation, the committee has considered six thematic areas; the nature of the Bill, public participation, process of the Bill, substantive issues, referendum issues and status of litigation in court.”

The committee Kigano co-chairs with Nyamira Senator Okong’o Omogeni collected views from 65 groups and individuals over three days last week and was expected to table their report yesterday as the Bill underwent a second reading.

But that did not happen.

Instead, Kigano said there were critical issues raised which could not be overlooked and which needed experts to guide the committee on.

Dagoreti South MP John Kiarie with Mau Mau War Veterans Association Secretary General Gitu Wa Kahengeri [David Gichuru,Standard}

The joint committee chairperson did not, however, give a timeline of when the report would be ready. 

“The committee thus resolved that there was need to engage experts in constitutional, legal procedural and governance issues to advice on the issues arising from the thematic areas identified,” he said.

The experts would work under a subcommittee of the joint National Assembly and Senate Justice and Legal Affairs Committee co-chaired by Kigano and Omogeni.

The subcommittee will comprise Kigano, Omogeni, Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo, Nominated MP Jennifer Shamalla, Nominated Senator Naomi Wako and Siaya Senator James Orengo.

The expert’s role will be to advise on the thematic areas that the committee identified or other issues that they may pick out. The team of experts is to further analyse the Bill and the important issues. “We are therefore asking for more time to comprehensively consider the Bill and table the report soon,” Kigano said.

But MPs questioned the motive the committee had by requesting for more time. Suba MP Junet Mohamed questioned why the committee needed other experts to inspect a Bill that already had the input of constitutional experts.

“This committee is claiming that they have formed a subcommittee to go and look for experts forgetting that this is a Bill through popular initiative; the promoters had engaged experts at length for two years,” Junet said.

“When you hear that they are looking for a committee of experts to advise them on the constitutionality and legality of the Bill then we have taken a very dangerous path pertaining to this Bill,” the MP said, asking Speaker Justin Muturi to use his power and force the committee to table their report.

Indefinite period of time

The debate brought to the fore the divisions within the committee, as one member, Kisumu West MP Olago Oluoch, denied that they had resolved to engage experts to advise it on the Bill’s legality, or to request an indefinite period of time.

Garissa Town MP Aden Duale said the reason the committee was requesting for an extension was not honest, suggesting disagreement within its ranks.

“Is there a problem in the committee? What is the reason? There are serious underlying issues. They should be candid and say the reason they really want an extension,” said Duale.

Suba South MP John Mbadi accused the committee of derailing the constitutional amendment process.

“I am surprised that they can make such a request when they know the provisions of the Constitution. Article 257 was put there to stop people who want to derail any Kenyan who wants to amend the constitution,” said Mbadi.

Parliament is split over its role in the drive to change the Constitution through the Bill.

The National Assembly Minority Leader said Parliament’s role in the constitutional change was ceremonial.

“What the committee should have done is just compiled a report to this House for future reference. There is no way that this House is even going to change a comma in the proposed Bill,” Mbadi said.

The MP said the request was ‘strange’ and was putting the country in unnecessary panic.

“The discussion out there is whether there is a disagreement between Jubilee and ODM, between Handshake partners yet it is this committee that has issues which they should sort out themselves,” said Mbadi.

Igembe North MP Maoka Maore said the committee had overstepped its mandate.

“The House is doing a ceremonial role; you cannot expand than mandate into the things the chairman was winding around that there were extensive issues. He did not ask for a timeframe, he just came and asked for an indefinite period of which the House does not want to open that gate,” he said.

However, it was Kisumu West MP Alouch, a member of the committee, who threw spanner in the works by claiming they had not discussed about involving experts.

“The message that we wanted to bring to the House today was the matter is so historic, it will be subject to litigation, we wanted at least two weeks to prepare a proper report. This idea of experts has caught me by surprise before the House,” he said. The MP asked the Speaker to give the committee two weeks to compile the report.

Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wah said the committee needs time to deal with issues such as the delimitation of boundaries and new constituencies.

“BBI to me is not an emergency, I support that extension. These are not light matters that can be brushed aside. The issues raised are pertinent and we cannot take this business that this house will become a conveyor belt to this BBI process,” he said.

Backing on position

Speaker Muturi gave the committee a 10-day extension, slating the report for tabling on Thursday, April 1. 

Muturi said he knew that the Bill, would go to the 2nd reading stage with or without the report.

In the Senate Siaya Senator James Orengo warned against remarks that the role of Parliament on the matter is ceremonial.

“If you go to the Committee of Experts (CoE), the way they conducted their business, almost on every issue, on every article, there is little backing on the position that they took,” he stated.

The Senate Minority leader stated: “The shame of the parliamentary process during the constitution making process, which came to this Parliament, was that in our debate (if you go to the Hansard records) the public would not be able to understand the position taken by Parliament in 2010.”

He said secondly, is the issue on content. “And even on the issue of content, Parliament must give an answer. I would plead with people who are making commentary on this process, to be very patient with Parliament. We know the timelines and we know our duty.”

Senator Omogeni said: “I want to assure the country and promoters of BBI that there is no intention whatsoever by the two joint committees to scuttle the BBI process, but we want to undertake a process that can stand any constitutional test.”