Kenya: The Kenya We Want - Time for the Nation to Talk to Itself in Pursuit of Unity

27 November 2019
opinion

At a well-secured house on the outskirts of Nairobi, the members of the Building Bridges Initiative ensured the final report did not leak to the public. Any printouts for discussion were shredded -- and every shred was burnt.

150-PAGE REPORT

On Tuesday afternoon, 20 months after the Friday morning of March 9, 2018 joint communiqué between President Kenyatta and his then nemesis now ally Raila Odinga, this final report -- which contains the proposed structure of government and national ethos -- was handed over to the President at State House, Nairobi.

From today, a national discussion starts on the final report, and on the future of Kenya -- which might shape, too, the Kenyatta succession and the 2022 politics.

On one side will be Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga. However, it will be interesting to watch Deputy President William Ruto's take on the proposals. Occasionally, his lieutenants had voiced concerns that the BBI report was about the Kenyatta succession.

BBI was a tightly-guarded secret. For security, the Nation learnt, the 150-page report, with several annexures, was printed abroad.

The report not only makes daring political proposals -- which will require a referendum and constitutional changes -- but also makes proposals on how to deal with State Capture by tackling the endemic corruption where private interests have, for years, influenced government policy, created billionaires and made the government tender system to be the cash cow for politicos.

PUBLIC SERVICE

It will further open discussion akin to the 1978 'Kenya we Want Conference' -- which was held at then Kenya Institute of Administration -- and will also address the issue of national ethos and take forward debate on Chapter Six of the 2010 Constitution.

Further, it reopens the code of ethics debate, first proposed in 1980 by the Bethwel Gecaga Commission and later shelved, and the proposals by the 1978 Waruhiu Commission that called for the reversal of the Ndegwa Commission which had allowed civil servants to do business.

The new attempt to reverse the Ndegwa Commission that is believed to have accelerated corrupt practices within the public service, will be the second after President Moi failed in 1978.

The big question is whether BBI will succeed. But it is the proposed political structure that will, perhaps, become the talk of town with the recommended return of a Prime Minister to oversee the government business in the House.

TEMPERATURES

Kenya had a prime minister between June 1, 1963 to December 12, 1964 under Jomo Kenyatta, and again between April 17, 2008 and April 9, April 2013 with Mr Raila Odinga.

Before the 2018 'handshake', Kenya was on the brink of a disaster as President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga openly quarrelled about the controversial 2017 presidential elections that the Supreme Court annulled on September 1.

Mr Odinga, rather than go back to the ballot box, had boycotted the new election and left Kenyatta to race against himself; much to the chagrin of Jubilee Party supporters.

Later, President Kenyatta used the State machinery to silence Mr Odinga, while Mr Odinga used his fervent supporters to heighten political temperatures, leaving the country on the edge of political collapse.

It was amid that poisoned environment that President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga held a surprise March 9, 2018 parley at Harambee House, Nairobi, and later issued a communiqué that called for a truce. They also initiated the Building Bridges Initiative to reshape the body politic with emphasis on two key phrases: national good and national interest "which must always prevail over... elections" -- as President Kenyatta put it.

WELL-BEING

By invoking 'national interest', the President seemed to be pushing the nation-State towards what political scientists call "self-preservation", where security and the well-being of citizens is considered cardinal and supreme.

During the task force sittings, some Kenyans felt graft had eaten the fabric of the nation and that cartel networks had grown strong within various sectors -- especially in the tea and coffee industry, once the mainstay of the economy.

The President has recently been restructuring the State to fight graft by weakening the political state and empowering the administration. The report proposes measures to deal with cartels, visualising a State where the National Intelligence Service will play a vital role.

"Kenyans should debate this report, improve it and make final decisions," said an insider within the task force.

One of the political proposals on the table is that the President, as it has always been, will be elected by the people but will now appoint a prime minister from the majority party in Parliament. The President is to retain his position as Commander-in-Chief of the defence forces and as the Head of State. However, while he will be chairing Cabinet meetings, he won't supervise government functions.

SUPERVISION

A replica of this structure is currently in place with the docket held by Dr Fred Matiang'i, who was elevated to chairman of the powerful National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee that includes all Cabinet ministers.

Another outstanding recommendation is that if there is no majority party in Parliament, the prime minister will be any person with the support of majority of MPs. That person, the report says, has to be confirmed by 50 per cent of the House.

On the appointment of Cabinet Ministers, the report recommends that they will be appointed by the president after consultation with the Prime Minister -- who will be the leader of government business in National Assembly and overseas the day to day supervision of government.

"Kenyans told us that they want to vote for their President, but they want the presidency to be inclusive and accountable," said an insider.

PERKS-DRIVEN

The Cabinet ministers will be picked from inside and outside Parliament. If from outside Parliament, the report recommends, they will sit in as ex-officio MPs nd their appointment will be confirmed by a vote by Parliament.

On the perks to be received by the prime minister, the report recommends that the PM gets the equivalent of MP's salary while MPs who become ministers also earn an MP's salary.

"We found a desire by the people to create a system of accountability rather than a system driven by perks," said a source. Another recommendation is that assistant ministers, to be known as ministers of State, will draw salaries equivalent to MPs.

The task force has also recommended the establishment of a powerful Leader of Opposition who will sit in Parliament as a member. This will be the runner-up candidate during the presidential election.

The Leader of Opposition, besides being an ex-officio member of Parliament, will have a shadow Cabinet enabled to oppose government policy.

BAD BLOOD

While there has been debate about the future of devolved system of government that was brought by the 2010 Constitution, the BBI report calls for the protection of counties, increase in funding and where wards will now become the new centres of development. That might see ward representatives be in charge of development kitty rather than MPs. The task force also recommends an increase of funding to the counties to be between 30 and 50 per cent of audited accounts, an issue that had created bad blood between the national government and the counties. Whether more tasks will be devolved to counties as a result remains to be seen.

But it will be the political debate that will take the upper hand as Kenyans start to debate the report, which might see yet another referendum and constitutional changes.

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