Shelved launch of BBI signatures bid sparks big debate

BBI, William Ruto, Uhuru Kenyatta, Constitution
BBI, Uhuru Kenyatta, William ruto
Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

The motive of the last-minute cancellation of signature collection to back proposed constitutional reforms was unclear yesterday, as it emerged that the draft Bill had not even been submitted to the Government Printer.

This revelation contradicted the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) team’s statement that the draft Bill was taken for printing two days ago but a delay in publication had prompted postponement of Wednesday’s launch of signature collection.

On Wednesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto held three-hour long talks and later at night the BBI secretariat dispatched a statement announcing postponement of the event that the Head of State and ODM leader Raila Odinga were planned to officiate yesterday.

In the statement, the BBI secretariat blamed the late publication of the draft Bill, promising that the document had been sent for printing that night, claims however rebuffed by sources at the Government Printer.

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“So far, we have not received any instructions to start printing. There has been talk, but we have not received it,” a highly placed source at the Government Printer told the Nation yesterday.

Secretariat co-chairs, National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed and former Dagoretti South MP Dennis Waweru, had said that the team was working on a new date “with a comprehensive programme of roll out of activities which will be communicated in due course.”

Yesterday, BBI Steering Committee joint secretary Paul Mwangi said the Bill was ready, but did not clarify whether that meant the printing.

“Everything, including the Bill, is ready. What awaits is the launch of the popular initiative and we await a new date after the postponement,” said Mr Mwangi.

He dismissed as “simply untrue” talks that the postponement meant an opportunity to build consensus on contentious issues as suggested by critics of the BBI report: “Ignore talk that the BBI signature launch was caused by a search for consensus. Sounds politically exciting, but is simply untrue.”

This came as leaders allied to the DP and those in President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga’s camp bickered over the meaning of the postponement. While those allied to Dr Ruto saw this as a fresh impetus in the DP’s unrelenting push for consensus, those in the Uhuru-Raila camp stood their ground that the BBI train had left the station.

Thirdway Alliance party leader Ekuru Aukot said that the BBI proponents halted the signature collection launch due to other underlying issues.

“That (the publication of the Bill) was a mere excuse. The President ought to have even invoked an Executive Order and forwarded the document to the Printer,” Dr Aukot said while insisting the BBI drive was an illegal process.

According to Dr Aukot, whose “Punguza Mizigo” bid to amend the Constitution failed after less than 24 county assemblies endorsed the document, the signature collection can start as soon as a draft Bill was ready. When it hit the one million signature threshold, they took the document to the electoral commission, which approved their signatures, and the agency published the Bill.

“Based on the BBI draft Bill, the promoters of the drive had no reason to stop the collection of signatures,” Dr Aukot said, questioning the official justification for the postponement.

While arguing that the meeting mostly focused on the effects of Covid-19 pandemic, the welfare of the healthcare workers, and the state of the economy, Belgut MP Nelson Koech said the postponement should give an opportunity for a review of the document to accommodate other views.

“The DP has continued to stress the need for an uncontested referendum. There are many out there who feel their proposals were ignored. It is an opportunity to factor in their views and, as a country, get past the BBI and refocus our energies on the monster at hand; Covid. It is on that basis that the President must have decided to postpone the collection of signatures,” Mr Koech, a close ally of the DP, told the Nation.

 “Those who were driving this agenda have had an internal ugly fight on who is to run what and get how much money. They have split into camps and are going for each other’s jugular,” he claimed.

The DP’s men yesterday argued that it was high time the Head of State took full control of the initiative, which Mr Odinga seem to have been virtually in charge of.

“President Uhuru Kenyatta has taken full charge of the BBI process. There is power in prayer. We expect to see Uhuru, Ruto and Raila on the consensus table. Reggae stops for now,” Jubilee Deputy Secretary General and Dr Ruto's de facto spokesperson, Mr Caleb Kositany, said.

Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen said it was now time for meaningful engagement for a win-win result.

“I congratulate President Kenyatta for, against all odds and pressure, postponing the BBI signatures launch to provide room for consensus. We only have one Kenya, let’s listen to all voices,” Mr Murkomen said.

But Nyeri Town MP Wambugu Ngunjiri said the President and his deputy’s meeting had nothing to do with the calls for further amendments to the BBI report: “The postponement was due to a delay in the gazettement of the report, which is the basis of the signature collection launch.”

Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo, who was a member of the defunct Committee of Experts (CoE) which drafted the 2010 Constitution, said there was no way the signature collection exercise could have commenced before the draft Bill was published.

“As long as a draft is not yet published, it is just a proposal. Once it is published and commencement of signatures begins, then it cannot be changed. It’s basically on its way to a referendum . . . but the point is that any postponement can only be temporary and brief because time is of the essence as we are actually less than two years to the next election,” Dr Amollo said.

Former Kakamega senator Dr Boni Khalwale, Dr Ruto’s ally, however insisted that there were no time constraints in amending the Constitution as the country is not in a crisis.

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