In Summary
  • There are also concerns that the avenue chosen by President Kenyatta to have BBI commissioners spearhead the initiative could consume a lot of time.
  • Mr Orengo wants a referendum this year because will allow enough room for enactment of relevant laws ahead of the 2022 polls.

It is race against time as politicians allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and Orange party leader Raila Odinga engage in a battle of wits over the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

Political antennas over the matter are in the air already, following Senate leaders’ Kipchumba Murkomen (majority) and James Orengo (minority) clash on a suitable date for a plebiscite.

While Orengo proposes a referendum not later than July this year, Murkomen dismisses the same as a pipe dream.

The flare-up comes in the wake of planned regional meetings to discuss the BBI report, which kicked off in Kisii on Friday before heading to the western region, whose leaders - Amani National Congress party boss Musalia Mudavadi and Council of Governors Chairman Wycliffe Oparanya - remain deeply divided.

Behind the turf wars between Mr Mudavadi and Mr Oparanya in western Kenya and allies of Mr Odinga and Mr Ruto on the national stage is the element of time, which is now making some restless.

GAZETTE NOTICE

And the President has not made the situation any better by not placing a gazette notice extending the BBI team’s mandate.

“The BBI team needs to be gazetted pronto, like yesterday, because without a gazette notice the BBI is not legally effective and time is just not on our side,” says Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo.

There remains a lull at the BBI offices. Reached for comment by the Sunday Nation, most of the commissioners declined to go on record.

BBI’s Joint Secretary, Mr Paul Mwangi, explained they could not comment on the substance and time frames of the initiative, “since we are not yet in office”.

Mr Mwangi was however hopeful a gazette notice would come through “any time soon”.

But Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa offered an assurance that nothing stops Kenyans from proceeding with the exercise even without the gazette notice.

“That will follow as per the President’s public assurance, but what is important at the moment is for the people to own the process.”

TECHNICAL COMMITTEE

There are also concerns that the avenue chosen by President Kenyatta to have BBI commissioners spearhead the initiative could consume a lot of time.

Dr Amollo, for instance, prefers the establishment of a committee of experts.

Noting the initial mandate of the BBI team was to collect and collate people’s views, the constitutional lawyer observes the remainder of the task is different and technical, “which is to reduce the BBI report to a constitutional document and to eliminate technical inconsistencies”.

Mr Orengo concurs. The Siaya senator points out, however, that the BBI team can still directly engage the technical services of lawyers and economists in order to hasten implementation of the BBI report.

Before the unveiling of the BBI report last November, teams allied to the Kenyatta-Odinga axis and Ruto were divided in support and against the initiative.

But after Team Ruto’s eventual backing of the BBI report, the battle has shifted to the implementing avenue and timing.

Nandi senator Samson Cherargei, who chairs the Senate legal committee, has vowed the referendum will not take place.

TEDIOUS PROCESS

The legislator lists three key reasons that stand in the way of the plebiscite, including lack of a budgetary allocation for the same to this date, lack of adequate time for the crucial ballot and the dilemma presented by a recommendation to reorganise the electoral body.

The timelines of a popular initiative route, same as the BBI, are indeed very tight.

With the publication of the report, Kenyans are supposed to read through the document and offer feedback, to allow the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to draft a constitutional document.

The team is then supposed to raise one million signatures in support of the process, before paving way for the electoral body to study and verify the same.

Once officials of the IEBC validate the one million voters’ list, they will refer the same to the 47 county assemblies for debate and endorsement.

The stipulated period for this exercise, according to the law, is three months. The bill then is forwarded to Parliament for deliberation and possible endorsement, if it gathers support of more than half of the county assemblies.

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