TOO LONG A WAIT

Disquiet as BBI report delays

Handshake principals yet to give clear signal on when the report would be received

In Summary

• Almost three months after the Building Bridges Initiative task force completed compiling the final report, Uhuru is yet to find time in his diary to receive it.

• Raila has repeatedly insisted that referendum must be held this year.

Residents during speeches at BBI rally in Mombasa.
BBI: Residents during speeches at BBI rally in Mombasa.
Image: JOHN CHESOLI

There is growing unease in the political circles in the face of President Uhuru Kenyatta keeping the country guessing about the fate of the BBI report.

Almost three months after the Building Bridges Initiative task force completed compiling the final report, Uhuru is yet to find time in his diary to receive it.

This has sparked suspicion, especially among ODM leader Raila Odinga's allies, that the President may have run out of steam to support the report expected to reconfigure the structure of government.

 

Sources within the presidency have told the Star that Uhuru and Raila camps have differed on the proposal to change the structure of government.

Raila's wing reportedly supports the introduction of an executive prime minister and two deputies while Uhuru's camp are wary a referendum would be needed for those changes. 

The President, according to sources, is concerned that a referendum at a time many Kenyans have lost jobs, thousands of enterprises closed down and an economy battered by the effects of Covid-19 pandemic, would be "insensitive.”

"The President is aware of the bad state of things in the country and he must weigh all the available options before making the final decision," a source familiar with the matter told the Star.

Uhuru's allies have held several strategy meetings to see how to go about the dilemma.

The Star has learnt that some are proposing that the BBI report be released in October and a possible referendum in December.

The group wants some part of the needed amounts deducted from confidential votes in the security docket.

 

As the report delays, Raila has insisted that a referendum must be held this year.

But his strong rebuke of Uhuru's government over the arrests of three senators ahead of a crucial revenue formula debate revealed cracks in the relationship between the two handshake partners.

Since the handshake with Uhuru, Raila has shied away from attacking the government and even his party MPs have become Jubilee's cheering squad.

Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu on Saturday said the latest the country can hold a referendum is by March next year failing which its proponents should forget it.

The lawmaker told the Star that despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the state should devise a way to conduct the plebiscite.

He ruled out the vote being done alongside the 2022 general election.

“The Building Bridges Initiative technical team must have done its part, drafted the necessary proposed legislation on the thematic areas that were before them. Therefore, if we cannot proceed on a referendum this year then we must have it in the first quarter of 2021 anything beyond that is not viable,” he said.

The MP who is the founder of Jubilee’s Kieleweke faction supporting BBI in Mt Kenya region said the reason the referendum should not be held alongside the 2022 election is that Kenyans should go into the next poll with new governance  structure.

Wambugu spoke as it emerged that President Kenyatta and other handshake backers from Mt Kenya are weighing their options on referendum.

From estimates by Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati, the country would need over Sh10 billion to conduct a referendum.

The National Treasury has revised its cash flow prospects following the pandemic hence could struggle to raise the cash, considering it has already asked lenders to defer loan repayment schedules.

The Jubilee administration’s headache if for the country to go begging international donors to finance a referendum when the bulk of donor funding is channelled to coronavirus.

The President is racing against time to consolidate his legacy two years to the next poll and a referendum would put the country into campaign mode.

Leaders from Mt Kenya who support the push to amend the Constitution have pegged their support on how the Senate will vote on the emotive revenue formula.

Central counties back the “one man one shilling” formula which will cut funding to less-populated regions in Northeastern, at the Coast and part of Rift Valley.

Senate Majority Whip Irungu Kang’ata (Murang’a) recently threatened that should senators vote against the formula proposed by the Senate Finance Committee, they will withdraw their support for the BBI process. 

In another twist, most of Uhuru’s loyalists who loudly supported the BBI push appear to have taken a back seat.  

Those seen to have mellowed include Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru her Meru counterpart Kiraitu Murungi and MPs  Maina Kamanda (nominated),  Kanini Kega (Kieni), Peter Mwathi (Limuru) and Paul Koinange (Kiambaa) among other leaders from the region.

It now appears Raila has been left to push the initiative on his own. 

Last week, the ODM leader was, however, upbeat during an interview with a local TV station that the referendum will be held this year to pass the recommendations made by the task force. 

“Initially we were thinking that we could be able to do referendum by July latest August,” Raila said.

He cited the Covid-19 pandemic as the reason behind the referendum delay.

He added, “This has not been possible, we are hoping that we will peak by September and after that we start going down in October and November. So we are thinking we will be in a position to do a referendum by end of November or sometimes in December.”

On June 30, the 14 members BBI Steering Committee said it had concluded its work and was waiting to present the report to the President.

The term of the team led by Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji expired on June 30, 2020.

Raila’s absence from the country was one of the reasons advanced as to why the report had not been received. It has been slightly over a month since he returned into the country from Dubai where he was undergoing treatment.

Over the weekend, Senate Minority leader James Orengo – a close Raila ally – said the country will indeed pass the BBI report in a referendum before 2022.

In a video that was widely shared online, the Siaya senator noted that President Uhuru and Raila’s leadership will steer the country to ‘where it is supposed to be’.

“We have only two years to ensure BBI is passed,” Orengo said in the video.

But according to ANC legislators Ayub Savula (Lugari) and his Lurambi counterpart Bishop Titus Khamala the constitution-making through a referendum can wait as the country is still battling the pandemic.

“We cannot make constitution in a crisis. President has banned any political gathering and we should deal with this health crisis first,” Savula said.

Khamala said this is not the time to talk referendum and urged all Kenyans to support President Uhuru’s fight against coronavirus in the country.

 “We have a myriad of problems in the country and we need two financial years to bring ourselves out. We should forget this politics and rally behind the President. This health priority is what comes number one,” Khamala said.

“I know am not in a position to advise the President. Referendum can only come if people are alive.”

Charang’any MP Joshua Kuttuny said there is still room until mid-next year and that “the country must go into the next election after referendum.”

He called on the President to direct that some of the recommendations that do not need referendum be implemented.

“The proposals in the report are meant to address some of the challenges we normally face after every election, if we go into the next election without the changes, we will not have resolved the problems,” he told the Star on phone.

 

 

(edited by o. owino)