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Decisive week for BBI Bill as more counties debate

By Steve Mkawale | February 21st 2021 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Nairobi County Assembly plenary during debate and passage of BBI Amendment Bill. [Samson Wire, Standard]

The next one week will be crucial if the process to amend the Constitution through a popular initiative is to move to the next step, proponents of the Building Bridges Initiative have said.

Eleven county assemblies have so far passed the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020, with at least 20 counties lining up the Bill for debate this week.

Siaya was the first county to approve the Bill, followed in quick succession by Kisumu, Homa Bay and Busia. Other counties that have passed it include Nairobi, Kajiado, West Pokot, Vihiga, Laikipia, Kisii and Trans Nzoia.

BBI proponents say they are confident of getting 24 counties, the number needed to meet the legal threshold and move the Bill to the National Assembly.

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BBI secretariat co-chair Dennis Waweru yesterday said he was confident the document “will sail smoothly all the way to the referendum.”

“We will get the mandatory constitutional required support at the county assemblies and even more. By mid-next week we will have got between 24 to 30 endorsements. I am extremely confident about this,” he told The Sunday Standard on phone.

The BBI secretariat had projected that at least 35 county assemblies would endorse the Bill ahead of the June referendum. Majority of county assemblies have in the past few days subjected the proposed law to public participation forums, where it has largely been endorsed.

Counties that are expected to debate the Bill this week include; Kakamega and Bungoma in western Kenya and Migori in Nyanza. At the Coast, Lamu, Taita Taveta, Tana River, Kilifi and Mombasa have scheduled sittings in their respective assemblies beginning Tuesday to discuss the document.

In the Rift Valley, there are indications that ward representatives in Turkana, Elgeyo Marakwet, Nandi, Uasin Gishu, Nakuru, Kericho, Bomet and Narok will commence debate on the Bill on Tuesday and Wednesday after they completed their public participation meetings on Friday.

Exude confidence

Regional BBI coordinators governors Lee Kinyanjui (Nakuru) and Alex Tolgos (Elgeyo Marakwet) separately exuded confidence that the draft will sail through the assemblies.

“We are glad that residents were keen to be informed on the content of the Bill in sub-counties that held public participation meetings, including Kuresoi North, Molo, Gilgil, Nakuru Town East and Nakuru Town West. MCAs will do their part,” Mr Kinyanjui said.

Mr Tolgos said county assemblies in the North Rift region are expected to pass the Bill next week. “There is soberness in approach to the Bill on the ground and we are optimistic the county assemblies will look at the proposals objectively devoid of political interference.”

In the Eastern region, leaders from the four Ukambani counties exuded confidence that the Bill will sail through the assemblies.

Six county assemblies in the Mt Kenya region have released schedules for debates that begin on Tuesday. In Nyeri, public participation was conducted in all the eight sub-counties, while top politicians in Murang’a led the exercise.

The exercise was marked by a relatively high turnout in Nyeri with many residents getting a chance to give their views.

In Kieni, MP Kanini Kega and a host of MCAs led residents who turned out to give their views at the Narumoru Catholic Hall.

Kega, who said he was giving his views as a resident, challenged Deputy President William Ruto to lead a ‘No’ campaign instead of giving lukewarm support to the document.

Most residents voiced support for the Bill, saying that if passed, they would benefit from more development projects due to additional allocation of resources.

Chaos almost broke out in Mathira after two opposing groups engaged in a shouting match. Police had to intervene to calm tempers.

Former Mathira MP Peter Weru, who attended the public participation meeting at Karatina Town Hall, said residents had been opposing constitutional changes as a result of misinformation.

Mr Weru also said the situation was gradually changing following President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit to the region early this month.

At the Murang’a Town Social Hall, hundreds of residents gathered as governor Mwangi wa Iria monitored progress of the exercise that lasted for three hours.

At the Kigumo Social Hall, residents were taken through the constitutional amendment process by MP Wangari Mwaniki. So far, only the Baringo County Assembly has voted to oppose the Bill. The verdict, however, is being contested in court by MCAs who claim they were dissatisfied with the process that led to the Bill’s rejection.

The MCAs argued that the session was marred with chaos thus making it difficult for them to exercise their mandate peacefully and effectively.

The matter has attracted the attention of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), which has summoned the Speaker and 13 MCAs over the chaos. They are expected to appear before EACC detectives in Nakuru from tomorrow up to Wednesday.

The BBI Bill was taken to the county assemblies for approval or rejection after the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission verified more than 1.4 million signatures in line with Article 257 of the Constitution.

The Bill, which proposes the expansion of the Executive by adding the office of the prime minister and two deputies, was borne out of a March 2018 truce between President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga.

The handshake on the steps of Harambee House in Nairobi ended hostilities sparked by Raila’s rejection of the 2017 presidential election outcome.

[Steve Mkawale, Boniface Gikandi and Nderitu Gichure]

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