Kenya Parliament passes new law without amendments

Kenyan MPs in Parliament on Thursday evening. They debated late into the night to pass the draft constitution without a single amendment. Photo/WILLIAM OERI

Parliament debated late into the evening to pass the draft constitution without a single amendment. President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga were in the House to participate in the historic voting. MPs had a deadline of Thursday to debate and amend the draft, after which it goes to the Attorney-General for drafting before being presented for a referendum.

Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo termed the event “one of the most historic events in the history of the country” saying it was a “truly amazing event for the future of this country.” The Justice Minister then praised House Speaker Kenneth Marende for ably steering the debate.

Mr Kilonzo said: “This is a landmark position for this country. It is the single most advanced framework of the Constitution ever imagined. We have all issues that are so important for the future of this country.” He reminded MPs that it is they who made the law that set Thursday night as the last day of debate.

Mr Kilonzo praised the leadership of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitution Review, led by chairman Ababu Namwamba and Abdikadir Mohammed, terming them “wonderful people.” “The MPs who have issues with the constitution should borrow a leaf from the history of constitution-making. Not everybody gets satisfied, it is a continuous process. We urge everyone to vote for it and avoid bananas and oranges,” said the Justice Minister.

Education Minister Sam Ongeri and Siakago MP Lenny Kivuti (Safina) too backed the draft. “Kenyans need this constitution. The fact that we did not get the changes we wanted does not negate the needs of this country which has to move forward,’’ said Mr Kivuti.

Nominated MP Millie Odhiambo (ODM) supported the document but regretted that MPs were not able to make any amendments. Ms Odhiambo was happy that the proposed new law addressed issues of exclusivity and inequality. Assistant minister Kilemi Mwiria (PNU) cautioned MPs against “poisoning’’ Kenyans to reject the draft at referendum. “We should show similar unity out there because the Oranges and Bananas are now in Government,’’ he said in reference to the 2005 referendum.

But Nominated ODM MP Musa Sirma described Thursday as the saddest day for Kenya, saying it was a shame that MPs had not made any changes to the draft. “We have failed Kenyans because we did not capture their aspirations and wishes. It is a big shame,’’ he said. He threatened: “We shall make sure that it does not go through.’’

Special Programmes Minister Naomi Shaban also accused Parliament of failing to show leadership. Instead, the Taveta MP said, Parliament turned debate on the constitution to a circus. Mr Walter Nyambati (Kitutu Masaba, NLP) said the fact that MPs were not able to make amendments to the document would make it difficult for them to sell it to the people out there. “We did not do our work and as a House we have failed the nation,” he said.

Earlier, MPs waited for an appearance by the Head of State, the MP for Othaya. At about 5pm, the Clerk of the National Assembly Patrick Gichohi and the Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka among other MPs went to the gate to welcome the President, but he had not arrived. He came at 5.30pm and was met by the Clerk, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Mr Musyoka and joint government whip George Thuo.

The MPs, who had earlier battled over an extended sitting, had moved out to sit in members’ lobby, as most of them withdrew their proposals to amend the draft. Assistant minister Charles Keter (Belgut, ODM) said that by passing the draft constitution, Parliament had disenfranchised Kenyans of what “they’ve been fighting for since independence.”