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November 20, 2018

The Constitution amendments Kenyans want

Voters queue as they wait to cast their votes at NSSF Grounds in Nairobi CBD,Starehe constituency, August 8, 2017. /MONICAH MWANGI
Voters queue as they wait to cast their votes at NSSF Grounds in Nairobi CBD,Starehe constituency, August 8, 2017. /MONICAH MWANGI

The National Treasury has completed assessing the financial implications of 28 pieces of legislation proposed by various MPs that are at various stages of processing by Parliament.

They include constitutional amendments that could require referenda.

National Assembly Budget and Appropriations committee chairman and Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichungw’a told the House that Treasury is finalizing the remaining 20 before the report is formally tabled in Parliament.

Of the 28 laws, at least six seeks to amend the 2010 Constitution and would require a referendum ahead of the 2022 general elections.

However, constitutional experts have raised the red flag on haphazard and uncoordinated amendment of the Constitution.

Nzamba Kitonga, the chairman of the Committee of Experts that midwifed the current law told the Star that once Kenyans agree on the need to amend the Constitution, there should be a body charged with coordinating the process.

"I would discourage the piecemeal amendments because they might interfere with the integrity of the Constitution. As you know, that document is intertwined. It would be better if either the AG's office or a body is formed to coordinate that process," he told the Star.

The Constitution requires legislative proposals identified to have some financial implications to be first referred to the Budget and Appropriations committee.

“If, in the opinion of the Speaker of the National Assembly, a motion makes provision for a matter listed in the definition of “a money Bill”, the Assembly may proceed only in accordance with the recommendation of the relevant committee of the Assembly after taking into account the views of the Cabinet Secretary responsible for Finance,” Article 114 (2) of the Constitution says.

Read: MPs race against time to pass key laws before end of sittings

Many observers have proposed that changes to the constitution be agreed upon broadly before being taken to the vote avoid a contested referendum that would gobble billions.

Two of the country’s major political protagonists — Raila Odinga and William Ruto — have already taken starkly opposed views on the law change. While Raila has called for amendments to disperse power and devolve the structure of government to three tiers, Ruto has opposed tinkering with the Constitution.

Ichugw’a said since January 2018 when the Budget committee began operating, it has received 48 legislative proposals ranging from health to finance, agriculture and ICT sectors.

"When considering these proposals, we invite the sponsor of the Bill to appear before the committee and justify its importance given that it may lead to a charge on the people of Kenya," Ichungw'a said.

"Resources are, indeed, scarce and any legislative proposal that is likely to increase the resource gap or tax the citizenry meets with keener scrutiny," Ichung’wa added.

The committee also seeks the opinion of the National Treasury so that its approval does not negatively impact on the resource framework in the medium term.

REFERENDUM

Read: Politicians split on Raila’s call for referendum

The committee has received several proposals for amendment of the Constitution, none of which is yet to get the nod of the committee or Parliament.

The first referendum proposal was submitted by Tiaty MP Kamket Kassait in February.

The Constitutional Amendment Bill sought to create a single term presidency of seven years and the position of prime minister with executive powers as leader of government business.

The PM was to be filled by an elected MP, with two deputies.

Kenya has had two prime ministers — at independence and during the Grand Coalition government negotiated after the 2007 post-election violence.

Kamket bill seeks to relegate the President to ceremonial roles while retaining the status of Head of State as a symbol of national unity. It proposed that county assemblies elect two senators of opposite gender.

In September, Soy MP Caleb Kositany wrote to the Speaker seeking technical expertise to draft a constitutional amendment bill. Yesterday, he told the Star that his bill is almost ready.

"We have been working with the clerks of Parliament. But when it will be tabled in the House depends on the calendar of Parliament," he said.

Kositany is proposing to abolish the Senate and positions of mominated MP and MCA. He also wants the 47 women representatives axed and women encouraged to compete with men for elective office.

Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter has also proposed a medical fund bill to help patients suffering from chronic disease including cancer, blood pressure, heart ailments and kidney failure.

Ndia George Kariuki and West Mugirango’s Vincent Kemosi have also proposed to reduce the number of Cabinet secretaries from the current maximum of 22 to 12, and counties from the current 47 to 12.

Kariuki has written to National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi seeking fewer counties that will be headed by a provincial governor, while Kemosi and Cherangany MP Joshua Kuttuny want Cabinet secretaries to be picked from elected MPs.

Kemosi has already written to Muturi indicating that he is sponsoring a Bill to amend Article 152( 1 ) which says cabinet secretaries will not be fewer than 14 and not more than 22, and Article 152 ( 3 ), which states that a Cabinet Secretary shall not be a Member of Parliament. The amendments do not require a referendum to change.

According to Ichungw’a, several other legislative proposals which his committee has finalized scrutinizing are pending with various departmental committees.

Muturi has already warned legislators that it is not enough to write to him for permission to submit a legislative proposal. They should walk the talk.

Muturi said some legislators were proposing law changes “just to excite the public”.

"Members write letters to me indicating that they have intentions of initiating certain legislative proposals. I have noticed a trend whereby the moment I write “approved, Clerk of National Assembly, please assist the Member”, I see it on social media and then debate follows… In the minds of Kenyans, there is a Bill,” he said.

"The committee has to follow due process and invite you, as the person who is initiating the legislative proposal, to appear before them. That is after it has been analysed by the Parliamentary Budget Office to determine whether it is a Money Bill or not and such other considerations, as required by the Constitution."

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