Kenya will head to a constitutional referendum in the coming months after the number of county assemblies approving the amendment Bill Tuesday crossed the threshold of 24 required to trigger a plebiscite.
While the Bill arising from the Building Building Initiative (BBI) process will still need to go to the National Assembly and the Senate, the referendum is as good as confirmed since the decision of the bicameral Parliament—whether endorsing or rejecting the document—will still result in a referendum, anyway.
Kenya’s Building Bridges Initiative, which seeks sweeping amendments to the 2010 Constitution, is driven by a pact between President Uhuru Kenyatta and a seasoned opposition stalwart turned government ally, Raila Odinga. The proposed amendments target at least 13 of the 18 chapters in the Constitution.
The pact, sealed with a handshake in March 2018, followed shortly after yet another acrimonious presidential election which had pitted the two against each other.
The ostensible goal of the Building Bridges Initiative is to resolve Kenya’s perennial election fraud problem. Kenyatta and Odinga insist that it will address problems attendant to Kenya’s winner-takes-all election system.
County assemblies in Mount Kenya region such as Murang’a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Tharaka Nithi, which were widely expected to oppose the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2020, joined the growing list of those voting for it, bringing to over 30 the number of counties that have passed the proposed legislation by Tuesday.
Kakamega, Narok, Mombasa, Makueni, Kitui, Bungoma, Taita Taveta, Machakos, and Lamu were among those which voted to approve the Bill Tuesday.
With 10 more county assemblies debating the Bill this afternoon, the number is expected to rise even higher.
The 12 regional assemblies join Siaya, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Busia, Vihiga, Trans Nzoia, Nairobi, Kisii, West Pokot, Kajiado, Laikipia and Samburu that had already given their nod for the process that seeks to change Kenya’s governance system and increase funds to the counties.
MPs last evening approved the Referendum (No. 2) Bill, 2020 through its Second Reading, coinciding with the day when more than 24 counties voted to approve the constitutional amendment Bill.
The MPs will now scrutinise the referendum Bill at the Committee of the Whole House with a toothcomb before it is passed through Third Reading for onwards transmission to the President for assent.
After passing of the Bill in both the Senate and National Assembly, the Speakers of the two Houses shall jointly submit the proposed law guiding the change of the Constitution to the President, who is expected to direct the electoral agency to conduct the referendum within 90 days.
The Bill, sponsored jointly by the committees on Justice and Legal Affairs and that of Constitution Implementation, seeks to provide a legal framework for the conduct of referendum in the country.
“Our committee was unanimous and came to a conclusion that the Bill should only deal with referendum expressly provided for under Article 255 to 257 of the Constitution,” Otiende Amollo, who moved debate on the Bill , said Tuesday.
While the supplementary budget tabled before Parliament early this month did not capture allocation for the referendum, the Treasury can allocate funds which will later be approved by MPs not later than 60 days after disbursement.
“Money has not been allocated but there is nothing to stop the referendum now. We will spend money then as Parliament regularize the expenditure later because it is allowed under law,” Kanini Kega, the chairman of the National Assembly committee on Budget and Appropriations, told the Business Daily yesterday.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in the past said the referendum would cost about Sh14 billion, highlighting the burden on taxpayers at a time the country is facing a cash crunch due to the Covid-19 economic fall-out and the debt repayment obligations.
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi has said that debate on the BBI Bill will take as short as three weeks, meaning the House will be done with it by end of March.
Since the two Houses will not have an opportunity to alter anything in the document, it is expected that the Senate will take the same amount of time.
The Speakers of the two Houses will then communicate their decision to the President.
On receipt, the President will send his message to the IEBC to hold a referendum.
The commission has 90 days within which to hold a referendum on receipt of the President’s message.
College students will not pay interest on Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) loans until they start earning income if lawmakers approve recommendations contained in the BBI report.
Under the proposed changes to the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) Act, the grace period for loan repayment will be increased to four years after graduation.
Graduates are currently required to start repaying the student loans within a year after graduation in what has left thousands of beneficiaries in default.
The 47 counties will receive at least 35 percent of national revenue contained in the last audited government accounts compared to the current 15 percent.
The devolved units have struggled to fulfil their responsibilities and curb the regional inequalities due to delayed disbursements from the Treasury and below-par internal revenue collections.
The BBI secretariat holds that the country will hold the referendum by June, paving the way for a change in the governance systems ahead of the 2022 polls.
“We wish to emphasise that we are within the timelines we had communicated earlier, and we are on course to hold the referendum by June 2021. We are confident of obtaining approvals from at least 35 county assemblies, way above the constitutional threshold of 24 counties,” BBI secretariat co-chairman Dennis Waweru said.
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