BBI gives us a chance to unify the nation

In Summary

• The report has been made public and the findings are not disappointing.

President Uhuru Kenyatta during the public unveiling of the BBI report on November 27, 2019.
President Uhuru Kenyatta during the public unveiling of the BBI report on November 27, 2019.
Image: PSCU

The release of the BBI report has caused quite a stir amongst both politicians and regular citizens. We have anticipated it for months, speculated its contents and contemplated what the recommendations might be.

The report has been made public and the findings are not disappointing. The most interesting piece of information that the taskforce has uncovered is that Kenyans are interested in having an executive prime minister position added to the executive, so that voters will have better representation. 

This goes hand in hand with President Uhuru Kenyatta and RailaOdinga’’s famous handshake. The president foresaw early on that the nation was reeling from disharmony. It has become apparent for years now, people have felt that the winner-takes-all system isolates power into the hands of a few while other candidates who lack the majority of the votes gain no voice.

For a year and a half, President Kenyatta has already been consulting former PM Raila Odinga regarding many executive decisions. This is in order to make sure that all sides have a seat at the table. It is too early to tell which recommendations in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report will be acted upon. But it is certainly seems like we are moving in the direction of fairer representation.

Democracy exists in many forms and is sometimes an imperfect system. Like many postcolonial states, our government is a work in progress. But we are moving towards the best democracy we can.

Another thoughtful recommendation of the task force includes building a cabinet comprised of both parliamentarians and technocrats. The technocrats running ministries would not need parliamentary approval in order to avoid “politicisation of the public service.” In other words - it would allow the professionals to do their jobs. 

Other positive findings include a strong interest in increasing female political representation. The report suggests a law whereby all governor/deputy governor pairings are comprised of one male and one female. Forty-five of the 47 counties are currently run by men, and most of their running mates are also male. This is truly embarrassing for Kenya, and it is clear that the people are fed up. 

The BBI report indicates that the people’s inclinations are in sync with Uhuru’s anti-corruption campaign. The task force suggests that elected officials be banned from doing business with the government. Too often it occurs here that a corrupt official uses his position to access tenders, get jobs for relatives, or make development deals that benefit their own pockets or those of family and close associates. 

This cannot be the norm. Elected officials doing deals with the government is a breeding ground for corruption, and we have had enough. 

It also suggests that the wealth of government officials be open to public scrutiny. This goes hand in hand with the Lifestyle Audit Bill, 2019 which the President signed in October. 

Currently, elected representatives have to sign a form every two years declaring all of their wealth and assets. But these forms have until now been kept in state coffers, impenetrable to journalists or the public. The combined force of the Lifestyle Audit Bill and the BBI recommendation should inject much greater transparency into how MPs become so wealthy.

In recent months, we have seen a lot of dissonance between those, like Uhuru, who want to cut down on sitting allowances for public servants, versus the public servants themselves who serve to profit from this. 

Enough is enough. No more millionaire MPs and no more tax money funding their lavish trips abroad. Taxes must be funneled into programmes that align with the Big Four Agenda. And we the people deserve to know how state funds are being divided and distributed.

The goal of devolution all along has been to increase the power of each county so that leaders can serve their constituents in the way that suits them most. A fine balance must be struck between national and local governments. 

In order to improve how devolution practically functions, the BBI suggests that counties are allocated at least 35 per cent of national revenue. This would allow local governments to address the very specific needs of their counties, and cut out some of the bureaucracy that accompanies distribution from the national level.

The BBI is a real chance to keep Uhuru’s wave of unity flowing through Kenya. We have admitted to ourselves the system is imperfect and changes are in order. Now that we have the full attention of the administration, the time for change has arrived.