Chances of referendum in 2020 slim as BBI clouded in uncertainty

The spread of coronavirus is weighing down the economy

In Summary
  • Task force chairman Yusuf Haji says the implementation of the final report is clouded in uncertainty due to the spread of coronavirus.
  • The BBI secretariat and team of experts are compiling the report after the validation process. 
President Uhuru Kenyatta reads the BBI report
UNCERTAIN: President Uhuru Kenyatta reads the BBI report

The BBI taskforce report is unlikely to be implemented this year as the coronavirus pandemic threatens to bring the economy on its knees.

There is every signal that a referendum cannot be held.

Taskforce chairman Yusuf Haji told the Star yesterday the implementation of the final report is clouded in uncertainty over the spread of coronavirus.


Haji said his 14-member team has taken a break as the secretariat and the team of co-opted experts assemble the final report.

“Ours was to produce a report and present it to the appointing authority within the specified time. I do not know if the outbreak of the coronavirus will delay the implementation of the end product. We will present the report with ways on how to implement it,” he said.

He said the entire country participated in the validation of the report which was unveiled last November at Bomas of Kenya by President Uhuru Kenyatta. However, the team is still receiving views from Kenyans online.

“Last week governors, among other Rift Valley leaders, brought their views to us and they have been committed to the secretariat for analysis. Kenyans still have a window of opportunity to send in their views until the end of this month,” Haji, who is also the Garissa senator, said.

 In January, Uhuru extended the mandate of the task force to June. The 14-member team is supposed to propose statutory or constitutional changes necessary for the implementation of the final BBI report.

Were it not for the outbreak of Covid-19, which has shifted the attention of the jubilee administration to the drawing board on how to deal with the highly infectious disease, the task force could have present to final report to the President by May.

Multiple sources have told the Star that experts who have been drafting questions to be put to the members of the public during a national referendum were on Monday told to suspend their sittings until further notice.


“The state was concerned that it is insensitive for us to continue with the process when Kenyans are crying over the matter of Covid-19. We do not know the fate of this process now as what is happening across the country is an act of God,” one of them who sought anonymity for fear of victimisation as the group is not allowed to speak to the media, said.

The team, which is parallel to the BBI team, has been meeting weekly at a private office in a Nairobi hotel.  

Opposition parties –ODM and Wiper Democratic Movement – have both insisted that the recommendations of the Haji team should be effected through a referendum which must be planned and budgeted for in the next three months.

ODM's James Orengo (Senate Minority leader) is the face of those pushing for the plebiscite.

According to Orengo,  the National Treasury can present to Parliament a supplementary budget to fund a referendum.

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka says the country can go for a referendum by September and any date beyond that would be difficult as the country will also be preparing for the 2022 general election.

With medical experts warn that Covid-19 is unlikely to be contained soon. They say the disease may result in total lockdown in the coming weeks, paralysing the already sickly economy. 

And with the country sagging under a Sh6 trillion debt, President Kenyatta is likely to shelve the BBI report.

“This country cannot afford a referendum. Its outbreak has far-reaching effects not just on our economy but that of the rest of the world. So, anyone thinking of a referendum either this year or next year is not in touch with reality,” Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung'wa told the Star.

The chairman of the National Assembly Budget Committee added: “Right now, what we should be talking about is how to cushion Kenyans and ways of creating an economic stimulus package that can resuscitate the businesses. But in Kenya, you can’t miss some elements who would still want to push such selfish interest despite the bad state of affairs.”

President Kenyatta last Wednesday promised sweeping economic interventions to save the economy in the face of Covid-19.

Belgut MP Nelson Koech, who is opposed to the referendum, said the President should “now be drafting a concrete plan on how his government plans to keep the economy afloat and secure jobs that are now at risk”.

“This pandemic is taking us into an unknown future. Parliament is not in session and the budget-making process is likely to be delayed.

"Now tell me, who is this right-thinking man planning a referendum behind the scenes? Not even donors will fund it. The referendum cannot be a priority in this country any time soon,” he told the Star by phone.


– mwaniki fm