Raila party whips MPs to back unchanged BBI Bill

Kenneth Lusaka and Okong’o Omogeni

Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka (right) receives the BBI report from Senator Okong’o Omogeni at Parliament Buildings on Monday.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Some MPs from President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party also vowed to reject the report.
  • Others in a rival faction allied to Deputy President William Ruto said free debate should not be stifled.

A showdown is looming in the National Assembly ahead of a two-day special sitting that starts today over a parliamentary committee report that branded sections of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) Bill unconstitutional.

Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party yesterday raised the stakes by rallying its members to reject the joint report by the justice and legal affairs committees of the National Assembly and Senate.

Some MPs from President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party also vowed to reject the report while others in a rival faction allied to Deputy President William Ruto said free debate should not be stifled.

ODM National Chairman John Mbadi yesterday asked party members to denounce the report and pass the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020 in its entirety, saying, this was the party’s position. 

Rattled the President

Mr Mbadi criticised two senior ODM lawmakers — Senate Minority Leader James Orengo, Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo and Nyamira Senator Okong’o Omogeni — who are among the signatories of the majority report that has rattled President Kenyatta and ODM party leader Raila Odinga’s camps. 

“Our members should be whipped back in line to support BBI, including those in the joint committee. They should know that this is a political rather than a legal process,” Mr Mbadi said yesterday.

“It beats logic that members of our party that has been consistent in its support of the BBI report are the same ones indicting the same report,” He added. Proponents of the BBI claim the objections are part of a scheme to scuttle a referendum bid.

The Suba South lawmaker said ODM members in the joint committee should have consulted with the party leadership, both in Parliament and outside, before taking a position.

Enemies of BBI

The report said that while there was nothing wrong with promoters of the BBI Bill proposing an additional 70 constituencies in a referendum, it was unconstitutional to attach a schedule showing their distribution in 28 counties, as that usurped the powers of the electoral commission to delimit boundaries.

National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed, MPs Olago Aluoch (Kisumu West) and Peter Kaluma (Homa Bay Town) did not sign the majority report by the committee co-chaired by Kangema MP Muturi Kigano and Mr Omogeni, who both signed.

“A committee report is meant to inform the debate and guide members on amendments. In this case, we are not amending the Bill. Either we pass it the way it is or reject it in total. We will pass the Bill as it is without the report. Many of us are not in agreement with the joint committee’s report,” Mr Mbadi said.

ODM Secretary of Political Affairs Opiyo Wandayi said the task at hand now is to pass the BBI Bill in its current form without any amendments and deal with any other issue later.

“The enemies of the BBI and by extension the Handshake have found useful allies in the joint parliamentary committee of Justice and Legal Affairs. They have teamed up to derail the BBI and eventually scuttle the handshake. That is why they’re throwing a spanner in the works at every turn. They must not be allowed to succeed in their nefarious plans,” Mr Wandayi said.

“The leader of ODM is Mr Raila Odinga and he has consistently pronounced himself on the BBI and the Handshake. The rest can only express personal opinions but such personal opinions must be carefully managed in order not to cause confusion,” he added.

Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu said: “Sovereign power in Kenya is vested in the people. BBI is a popular initiative that is people-driven. We, in Parliament, cannot purport to change an initiative driven by the people. We must let them decide on it as it was presented to IEBC with 3.2 million signatures and forwarded to the county assemblies where it was passed by 43 assemblies without even changing a comma,” Mr Wambugu told Nation.

‘Not like a menu’

The Jubilee lawmaker added: “The people must decide whether to reject or pass BBI, as is, in a referendum. And that is not only proper but is also the law.”

Nyando lawmaker Jared Okelo said the BBI process has been driven by the people from its inception and that no one should come at the tail end of the process to try to make substantial changes that have the potential to overturn the will of the people.

However Soy MP Caleb Kositany said MPs owe it to Kenyans to scrutinise the document given the glaring errors identified.

“We cannot go to a referendum with errors in the document. Proponents should recall the document over the errors. The constitution-making process is not like a menu where you can even order for something that you don’t understand,” Mr Kositany said.

“The BBI is not people-driven as some of its proponents claim but came about as a result of the Handshake between the President and the ODM leader,” he added. 

Kandara MP Alice Wahome said she expects robust debate on the floor of the House to address the issues about the document.

She, however, agreed that the House can’t open the Bill for amendments.

“Typographical errors is an indication that some people interfered with this and that sends serious concerns to Kenyans. Why should there be many typographical errors? We ought to have only one Bill,” Ms Wahome said.