Kenya: How Building Bridges Initiative Report Seeks to Change Governance Structure

President Uhuru Kenyatta hugs Opposition leader Raila Odinga as his Deputy President William Ruto (right) and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka cheer them (file photo).
27 November 2019

A popularly elected President would require a strong contingent of allies in Parliament to ensure smooth passage of key bills and adoption of important government business if the proposals by the Building Bridges Initiative are adopted.

The BBI team is proposing that the President will pick a prime minister, Cabinet ministers and their assistants from among members of the National Assembly in a bid to deal with the abstract nature of the current government arrangement.

A window has also been opened for the President to appoint individuals who might not be MPs, but who would become Parliament's ex-officio members, meaning they would sit in the House but would not vote.

As per the BBI report that is to be made public today, the PM should be picked from among MPs and must be from a party with the majority numbers in the House or enjoys the highest support in case of coalitions.

The PM's key role will be to supervise ministers and ensure the government's agenda is well articulated within and without Parliament.

As per the proposal, ministers, who will have assistant ministers, will also be expected to be from the ruling party or coalition.

Currently, Cabinet secretaries don't have assistants. After the last elections, President Kenyatta created an amorphous position named chief administrative secretary, whose duties have largely been similar to those of assistant ministers in the pre-2010 Constitution.

MOBILISATION SKILLS

The premier will lead government business in the House and will need unequivocal support to ensure fellow lawmakers approve legislative proposals without much ado.

As the face of the government in Parliament, the PM will also be expected to possess mobilisation skills as he or she would be required to often seek the support and approval of critical bills by the MPs.

Before the 2010 Constitution was launched, the Vice-President performed that role although during the Grand Coalition government between 2008 and 2013, PM Raila Odinga assumed the role and often clashed with Mr Kalonzo Musyoka who was the VP then.

With the BBI proposal, it is unlikely that there would be such supremacy battles as it is expressly stated that the PM would lead government business in the National Assembly. The Deputy President would still remain as the President's principal assistant.

WARNING

However, some political experts warned that having a PM picked from the party with the majority in the house was likely to cause chaos in future.

They said it would not be automatic that the President will always enjoy the support of the majority in the House.

"Having the hybrid system where the PM will be picked by the President from the party with the majority in Parliament will be a bit dicey in the future.

"If you have a scenario where the PM belongs to a different party as the President it will bring about chaos and a polarised political environment as it might be difficult to pass government agenda," said Mr Kipng'eno Duncan, the Secretary General, Association of Political Consultants-Africa.

He supported the proposal to pick ministers from the House, saying, they would be better placed to handle government policies and MPs' queries as opposed to the technocrats occupying the positions presently.

"Picking ministers from the National Assembly is welcome because these are posts for people with the political know-how, those who can promote policies within and without Parliament. Give Principal Secretary posts to technocrats because they will be accounting officers," said Mr Kipng'eno.

If the proposal is adopted it will be a big win for lawmakers who have often accused the present CSs of being aloof and unable to profess and defend government policies when they appear before them.

They have instead been pushing for ministers to be appointed among them like in the past dispensation, saying, they would easily interact and respond to queries in Parliament.

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