Civil society calls for resumption of bipartisan talks

Civil Society Organisations presser in Nairobi on July 23, 2023.  [Samson wire Standard]

Civil Society Organisations have called for the immediate resumption of bipartisan talks with multi-sectoral representation.

The civil society said the bipartisan talks offered a platform to address issues affecting Kenyans and urged leaders to exercise patience, soberness and selflessness needed for the successful completion of the process.

Transparency International Kenya (TI-Kenya), Centre for Multi-Party Democracy(CMD-K), Elections Observation Group (Elog), Mzalendo Trust, Constitution and Reform Education Consortium(CRECO) and Electoral Law and Governance Institute for Africa(ELGIA) officials who addressed Journalists in Nairobi on Sunday said the talks should go beyond political interests.

TI-Kenya Executive Director Sheila Masinde said the bi-partisan talks should genuinely encompass the concerns and aspirations of all Kenyans since it was only through inclusive dialogue that the root cause of discontent can be addressed and pave the way for a more just and equitable society.

“We call upon the country to have a discussion on the nature of the electoral justice system particularly on why we have unending and protracted electoral-related disputes including violence with the winner takes it all inherent in this system with a need for a system that is inclusive and promotes inter and intra political party democracy,” said Masinde.

Elog National Coordinator Mulle Musau raised concern over some leaders who use reckless language that has the potential to incite Kenyans to cause violence and others who assault the public saying they need to uphold the oath to public office and the rule of law.

Musau said that leaders need to observe the code of corporate governance for state corporations which they ascribe to and requires them to uphold a high level of ethics and integrity in their functions besides understanding and appreciating that they are holding their offices in trust and on behalf of Kenyans.

“Leaders should use their positions responsibly, promoting unity, understanding and constructive dialogue rather than adding fuel to the flames of unrest, it is vital for the nation’s stability and prosperity that leaders act as beacons of hope and reason, we also ask citizens to watch the conduct of their public representatives and assess their leadership values in promoting national unity,” he said.

Creco Executive Director Joshua Changwony called on Kenyans to have a critical conversation on what kind of an election management body they want which will safeguard the integrity of elections after serious questions were raised on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission(IEBC) in terms of its composition, model and its place in the overall management and delivering credible elections.

Changwony said that while they are aware that the IEBC selection panel was constituted and is operational, the recent developments occasioned by the bipartisan parliamentary process have thrown the country into uncertainty in terms of its operations and anticipated timelines with critical decisions and processes pending the full constitution of the commission.

“Every Kenyan has a right to representation and therefore the continued uncertainty on when elections will be held in Magarini, Banisa and Lagdera may lead to the disenfranchisement of the respective residents of these electoral areas, boundary delimitation has been put on hold and if this process drags on longer the country risks running into a constitutional crisis,” he said.

Mzalendo Trust Executive Director Caroline Gaita warned that implementation of the Finance Act 2023 will increase the cost of basic commodities and the decision to double the Value Added Tax on fuel to 16 per cent will have a ripple effect on all sectors of the economy.

Gaita said that increasing the turnover tax for small businesses from 1 per cent to 3 per cent will kill the sector that is struggling to get back to its effects following the devastating effects of Covid-19 and it was worth noting that the civil society through their partners under the Okoa Uchumi Coalition presented their proposal to the relevant committee in May 2023 on the matter.

“In our proposal, we presented how the government could shift focus from overtaxing citizens and businesses and laws on applying austerity measures addressing corruption and illicit financial flows, strengthening assets recovery and shielding wananchi from the high cost of living, however in June the National Assembly passed and the President assented to the Finance Act 2023,” said Gaita.

ELGIA Executive Director Felix Odhiambo regretted that peaceful protesters exercising their democratic right to picket were met with brutal force and unlawful arrest by the police in a country that prides itself in upholding the rule of law.

Odhiambo called on the government to uphold the principles of human rights and freedom of speech enshrined in the Constitution and allow peaceful demonstrations to take place without intimidation or undue restrictions.

“We call upon members of the public who are exercising their constitutional right to demonstrate to do so peacefully and within the confines of the law, we wish to invite the organisers of the demonstration to make public pronouncements calling on their supporters to refrain from destruction of property and causing disruptions to livelihoods and businesses of fellow Kenyans,” he said.

CMD-K Executive Director Franklin Mukwanja raised concern over increased cases of disinformation, misinformation and hate speech through social media platforms and some vernacular stations and the use of old pictures and videos targeting particular political leaders, parties or communities.

Mukwanja said that Journalists play a critical role in providing factual information to the public and called on all parties to respect media freedom.

“We remind Kenyans that a cohesive and prosperous Kenya requires concerted efforts by each and every Kenyan playing his part, we encourage citizens and leaders to exercise maturity and responsibility even as they go about their daily duties,” he said.