REFERENDUM IN LIMBO

Legislators strike deal on BBI bill after experts’ opinion

The Houses to debate the Bill in May

In Summary
  • •Senators and Members of the National Assembly sitting in the Committee have agreed not to amend the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) bill, 2020.
  • •Initially, senators had insisted that Parliament’s role in the constitutional amendment cannot be ceremonial and pushed for reopening of the bill
The joint Justice and Legal Affairs Committees are chaired by Nyamira Senator Okong'o Omogeni and Kangema MP Muturi Kigano in Parliament on March 11, 2021.
The joint Justice and Legal Affairs Committees are chaired by Nyamira Senator Okong'o Omogeni and Kangema MP Muturi Kigano in Parliament on March 11, 2021.
Image: EZEKIEL AMING'A

Legislators sittings in the joint parliamentary committee on the BBI bill have hammered a deal to end the standoff that had threatened to delay the processing of the bill.

This even as it emerged that Justice and Legal Affairs Committee ruled out any possibility of a special Parliament sitting to consider the bill, putting the planned June referendum into disarray.

Both Houses have adjourned until next month in a bid to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Senate is expected to resume plenary session on May 11 with the sister House resuming on May 4.

Senators and Members of the National Assembly sitting in the Committee have agreed not to amend the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) bill, 2020.

Initially, senators had insisted that Parliament’s role in the constitutional amendment cannot be ceremonial and pushed for reopening of the bill against the wishes of their counterparts in the National Assembly, sparking a standoff.

The scenario triggered a stalemate forcing the panel to seek the services of legal and constitutional experts.

The committee hired Prof Patricia Kameri-Mbote and Dr Collins Odote to work alongside top legal minds in the committee secretariat and advise it accordingly on the role of parliament and other sticky issues in the bill.

The Star has also established that the Senate wing of the joint panel has separately engaged the former members of the defunct committee of experts that drafted the 2010 constitution on their views on the role of parliament in the constitution amendment drive by a popular initiative.

“Some of us have even met some of the people who sat in that committee of experts and the idea of Parliament attempting to move a comma is not possible,” Makueni senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr, who sits in the committee, said.

The senators led by JLAC chairman Okongo Omogeni and Minority Leader James Orengo had put a strong case against the argument that Parliament cannot tweak even a comma in the bill.

The senators had reportedly pledged to write a report recommending the Bill to be re-opened for amendments against the wishes of their counterparts in the National Assembly.

“The senators were arguing, that the role of Parliament can’t be ceremonial. The question is, how ceremonial, what else can you do? Hence the engagement of the experts,” Mutula added.

National Assembly JLAC chairman Muturi Kigano, who co-chairs the joint committee with Omogeni, insisted that Parliament cannot amend the Bill.

The further Parliament, through the committee can go, is to make observations in the report for future reference.

“This is people’s initiative. What we can do is may be have commentaries and observations derived from public participation in the report.

“We cannot rubbish off IBC when they say they are the ones who can delimitate constituencies. We will include their observations in the report,” Kigano said.

The Kangema MP disclosed the two committees will table their reports in Houses when they resume sessions in May.

This will effectively affect the roadmap to the referendum unveiled by Handshake Principals; President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM boss Raila Odinga in Naivasha last year.

The BBI secretariat had unveiled a tight timeline that would culminate in a referendum in mid-year. Parliament was expected to dispense with the Bill by April 4.

The law bars any constitutional amendments a year to a General Election.

The Bill is the product of a popular initiative as stipulated in Article 257 of the Constitution and some experts say Houses of Parliament should consider it as it is.

-Edited by Sarah Kanyara