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Ruto allies dismiss BBI as MPs take a vote on the Bill

Parliament session in the Chambers, Nairobi on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 [David Njaaga, Standard]

MPs allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga yesterday faced off with their colleagues allied to Deputy President William Ruto over the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020.

Ruto allies in the National Assembly and Senate put up strong opposition to the Bill, describing it as divisive and with little solutions to problems bedevilling Kenyans.

The backers of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) however rallied the House to back the proposed changes, citing more resource allocation to counties, expansion of the Executive to end winner-takes-it-all system as well as curing the two-thirds gender rule.

The split among legislators continued to widen, despite the president and the ODM leader rallying the two Houses to “listen to the voice of the people” and vote in support of the Bill.

In a joint statement, the Handshake partners had asked the lawmakers to put aside their political differences, saying this was not the moment of political adversity or personal aggrandisement.

“We are making a joint appeal to members of the National Assembly and the Senate to join the 3,188,001 Kenyans who supported the Bill, and the 44 county assemblies that approved it, in upholding what represents the hopes and aspirations of all those who participated in the various public forums seeking long-term solutions to this country’s problems,” said the two leaders.

Yesterday, MPs William Cheptumo (Baringo North), Aden Duale (Garissa Township), Caleb Kositany (Soy), Kimani Ichung’wah (Kikuyu) and Johana Ng’eno (Emurua Dikirr) led the onslaught against the document.

Cheptumo said it was deceitful to tell voters that the proposed constitutional changes will end electoral violence.

The former Justice and Legal Affairs assistant minister said impunity and disobedience of the rule of law by those in power were the biggest challenges.

“From the onset, I want to say I oppose this Bill. The challenge we have as a country is not the Constitution but us leaders. The challenge we have is that we don’t believe in the rule of law, we choose the narrow path of violence any time we lose elections,” said Cheptumo.

Duale said the proposed changes have not suggested any electoral reforms to prevent the country from plunging into possible electoral violence.

“I will not speak for any political party but on behalf of the people of Garissa. I want somebody to tell me if this Bill will end electoral violence, I want someone to tell me if this Bill contains electoral reforms,” he said.

Duale said the Bill was to benefit those in leadership instead of solving the problems of mwananchi.

Ichung’wah described the Bill as a poisoned chalice anchored on political treachery and deception.

“We are deceiving ourselves and the country. If the base of our NG-CDF is not changing with Sh36 billion divided by 290 constituencies. The deception in this document, I can only ask the people of Kenya to stop them at the ballot because here we will be bribed, we will be bought,” he said.

Pro-BBI lawmakers, however, put up a spirited fight for the passage of the Bill, citing several benefits from the proposed changes.

Samburu Woman Representative Maison Leshomo, also a member of the BBI task force, said the proposals were from the people. She dismissed claims that the Handshake partners were pushing their political interests down the throats of people.

“The views in the BBI are from the people, they did not come from certain people but from all Kenyans. We went all round the country collecting views based on the nine-point agenda by President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila,” said Leshomo.

“People said there is always a fight after every election because of the top positions. It is the people who suggested creation of prime minister and two deputies to ensure inclusivity in leadership.”

National Assembly Deputy Majority Whip Maoka Maore said those opposed to the BBI were doing so over claims they were sidelined in the process but not on the basis of content.

“If you listen to those opposed to the Bill, they are not opposing because the proposals are bad but because they feel sidelined,” said Maore.

Homa Bay Woman Rep Gladys Wanga said claims that the Bill was clawing back the independence of the Judiciary were unfounded. She said the Judiciary has to be held accountable through creation of an ombudsman.

“I support this Bill unreservedly. Nations develop by constantly reviewing their systems to determine what works and what does not work. We have had people say that BBI is expensive. Figures have been thrown around, but I have asked them what is so expensive more than peace,” she said.

“A vote for BBI is a vote to strengthen our economy and for a prosperous country for our children. BBI is strengthening the independence and accountability of the Judiciary. When there is justice for sale, who should protect Wanjiku? It is the ombudsman.”

Westlands MP Timothy Wanyonyi said passing the Bill will reintroduce ministers in Parliament to ensure questions by MPs are responded to adequately for better service delivery to the people.

In the Senate, it emerged that some proposals by the BBI task force on amending the Constitution may have been ignored in drafting the Bill.

Busia Senator Amos Wako said the 14-member defunct BBI task force had proposed to have Senate elevated to the upper House.

“We made appropriate recommendations to restore the status of Senate to where it should be. That was there fully. But you know ours was merely to recommend, but there were others to decide,” said Wako.

The MPs extended the sitting to 9pm to vote on the Bill for it to proceed to the Third Reading. 

A total of 247 members were physically present when the division bell rang. Another 55 members were present virtually for the vote.

Earlier in the day, National Assembly Majority Leader Amos Kimunya moved a motion that reduced the debating period from the initially set 15 minutes to seven minutes. The House also extended the morning session from 12pm to 2pm to allow more members to debate.

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