Mixed fortunes as bipartisan talks end with no deal on cost of living

National Dialogue Committee co-chair Kimani Ichungwa and former vice president Kalonzo Musyoka after signing the Bipartisan Talk agreement on Sunday, November 25, 2023. [Dennis Kavisu, Standard]

The nation was kept waiting for hours on the day that the much-awaited bipartisan talks report was to be released.

And after behind-the-scenes haggling that saw the mid-day announcement pushed to 5pm, the National Dialogue Committee co-chaired by National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah and former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka emerged at 8.20pm at Hilton Garden Inn to announce they had agreed on the majority of the agenda save for how to tackle the high cost of living.

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition had listed the issue as an irreducible minimum but Kenya Kwanza remained adamant in its opposition to the scrapping of the housing levy and reduction of Value Added Tax on fuel from 16 per cent to 8 per cent.

The two issues have now been listed as those that the teams could not agree on and it will be up to the principals, President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga, and Parliament to decide how to progress once they receive the report.

However, the two sides agreed on the need to reduce government expenditure through austerity measures as part of efforts to reduce the cost of living.

In the agreement, the dialogue committee wants the government travel budgets reduced by 50 per cent.

It also proposed that the Salaries and Remuneration Commission reduce the bloated wage bill by 30 per cent.

Further, the Ministry of Energy will be required to reduce road maintenance levy and anti-adulteration levy by Sh5 and Sh3 respectively if the committee's report is endorsed by Parliament. 

The two sides, however, reached a consensus on the entrenchment of the Senate Oversight Fund, Ward Development Fund and National Government Constituency Development Fund (NGCDF) in the Constitution.

Also agreed on is the creation of the office of Leader of the Opposition, which will be occupied by leader of the party that garnered second highest number of votes in the presidential election with two deputies and the entrenchment of Prime Cabinet Secretary's office into the Constitution.

The previously sticky issue of ensuring party fidelity was also agreed upon.

The two sides are proposing the creation of an office to oversight party fidelity to be entrenched in the Constitution. The role currently played by office of Registrar of Political Parties.

On electoral justice, the two sides agreed on the audit of 2022 electoral process.

They also proposed the establishment of expanded selection panel of nine members, up from seven to recruit the the chairman and commissioners of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

The dialogue team, in its report, will also be proposing for the increase of the timeline within with Supreme Court shall hear presidential petition from 14 to 21 days.

Another issue tackled is the impact of electoral reforms carried out just before elections with the dialogue team recommending that they become effective in the next cycle.

Speaking at the press conference, Ichungw'ah said the report was a product of compromises, saying the journey leading to the outcomes was not an easy one. 

“The journey preceding this has not been easy. We have weathered many storms, endured tumultuous cycles of violence. Throughout this process concessions were made, positions relinquished... We have placed Kenya above personal ambitions. The report we are presenting to the nation is a product of compromises,” said Ichungw'ah.

On his part, Kalonzo said while there was consensus, divergent opinions were forwarded to the principals directly.

"There was consensus, however also divergent opinions which have been forwarded to principals electronically. Our journey towards redemption has been guided by a commitment to build the essence of nationhood because our duty transcends political aspirations,” he said. 
 The deal now puts the country on a constitutional journey which will alter the architecture of government after the ruling coalition and the opposition signed a deal to resolve political disagreements.

Earlier, when the media arrived at the appointed hour at around midday, the Kenya Kwanza coalition team members led by Ichungw'ah drove out to an undisclosed location and only returned at around 5 pm.

After their return, each team retreated to separate rooms where they pored the draft agreement for more than an hour as the media waited.

 Kalonzo told the press the delay was meant to allow the secretariat to finalise on the report before dissemination to the teams.

“When we met this morning, it was obvious to us there's a lot of work to be done at the levels of the Secretariat and the technical teams. So, we have decided to postpone discussions for now so that the Secretariat can finalise the product. The final product is a report,” said Kalonzo, shortly after a meeting of both sides.

He also explained that the report would be made public today to allow for both Raila and Ruto to look at the recommendations before giving the green light for its release.

“This is just a practical thing and some of us have been involved in these things. In fact, to be honest, I'm very surprised with the speed with which this committee has moved thanks to the commitment on the part of the committee members, the secretariat and the technical teams. So, this, ordinarily, should even take time through midnight, up to tomorrow,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Aron Cheruiyotdivulged that the report had captured all the concessions and disagreements from both sides and had also taken into account the views presented by members of the public.

“Remember like his Excellency has said, we have up to tomorrow midnight 26th. That's the end of our mandate. However, we don't intend to keep you until tomorrow with that,” said Cheruiyot.

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