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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Only courts stand on the way of BBI

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The vote to amend the constitution through a referendum is now only one step away with the passage of the Constitutional Amendment bill 2020 by the members of the National Assembly.

Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi on Tuesday had ruled out any amendments to the Bill, putting an end to the debate on whether to make changes or not.

Muturi in his communication, told the lawmakers that making amendments to a popular initiative as provided for in article 257 of the constitution would negate the will of the people.

The passage came after President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga urged Members of Parliament to shelve their reservations and pass the Bill, setting the stage for a referendum anytime this year.

In a joint statement, the two ‘Handshake’ partners rallied lawmakers from both Houses of Parliament to adopt recommendations made in the Bill in order to allow plans for the popular initiative to commence.

Uhuru and Raila noted that the BBI Bill has gone through the motions provided for in the constitution particularly citing the endorsement of Kenyans who appended over three million signatures on the Bill, surpassing the threshold necessary to take the process to the next stage.

“We are making a joint appeal to members of the National Assembly and the Senate to join the 3,188,001 Kenyans who supported the Bill, and the 44 County Assemblies who approved it, in upholding what represents the hopes and aspirations of all these who participated in the various public forums seeking long term solutions to this country’s problems,” said the two leaders in a joint statement.

The passage of the bill almost brings to an end the long protracted debate on the Constitutional amendments that started with the collection of signatures from the public.

The promoters submitted a total of 4.4 million signatures to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) supporting the BBI constitutional amendment drive kicked off a long road ahead to a referendum mid-2021.

The Constitution stipulates that once the electoral agency has verified the signatures and confirms that it meets the threshold of one million signatures, the bill is taken to the 47 County Assemblies for debate.

During the debate at the County Assemblies, 44 units approved the document which was later introduced to both National Assembly and Senate.

“A Bill to amend this Constitution shall not be called for second reading in either House within ninety days after the first reading of the Bill in that House,” the Constitution says.

Once the President passes his message to the IEBC to hold a referendum on the receipt of the Bill from Parliament, the commission has 90 days within which to hold a referendum.

And with the passage of the BBI bill by the National Assembly and possibly by the Senate this week, the only thing now standing on the way for the Constitutional amendment bill 2020 is a case pending in court.

A five Judge-bench comprising of Justices Chacha Mwita Janet Mulwa George Odunga, Joel Ngugi and Jairus Ngaah have retreated to write the judgement after the petitioners and the defendants completed their submissions.

Law Society of Kenya (LSK) president Nelson Havi representing BBI petitioners David Ndii, Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN), Thirdway Alliance, 254Hope, Justus Juma, Moraa Omoke, Isaac Aluochier and Muhuri said that they are expecting to be given a notice of the judgement.

“We are waiting to be given notice on when the judgement will be issued,” said Havi.

The judges had ordered the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) against conducting or preparing for a referendum on the bill before the matter is dispensed.

However, the Constitution does not say how long Parliament should take, after passing the Bill, to pass it on to the President, or then how long the President shall take once the Bill is on his desk.

The Constitution in article 257 (8) states that a Bill under this Article is passed by Parliament if supported by a majority of the members of each House.

“If Parliament passes the Bill, it shall be submitted to the President for assent in accordance with Articles 256 (4) and (5). If either House of Parliament fails to pass the Bill, or the Bill relates to a matter specified in 255 (1), the proposed amendment shall be submitted to the people in a referendum,” reads part of article 257.

The challenges of passing the bill in time for next year’s General Election is one of the biggest hurdles facing the political class even as BBI proponents President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Handshake partner Raila Odinga, rally their troops to fast-track the process.

BBI Co-Chair Dennis Waweru has been confident that the BBI process will sail smoothly all the way to a referendum. 

“To those few who think they can successfully oppose this process, we want to tell you that the train has left the station. Your best shot now is to catch a fast motorbike or taxi and run after the train because we are not going to stop,” said Waweru.

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