Okoa Kenya drive comes with an enticing ‘bag of sweeteners’

By: JUSTUS WANGA

The drafters of Okoa Kenya Bill laced it with bagful of sweeteners in a bid to overcome hurdles that could dim their planned referendum next year.

Aware of the pivotal role the County Assemblies and Parliament have in the push to change the constitution, Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) has lined up a number of goodies that even governors will find hard to resist with indications that some Jubilee county chiefs could support it.

For instance, the document seeks to establish a Ward Development Fund, something members of the county assemblies have fiercely been agitating for.

There are cases of county expenditures being rejected by the Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo because of the inclusion of this kitty, currently not in the constitution.

“For every financial year, at least five per cent of the equitable revenue allocated to a county government shall be paid into the Fund and shall be utilised in each ward to implement projects in accordance with development priorities,” reads section 33 (2) of the Bill.

This is one step towards gaining a foothold in the assemblies, which must approve the proposed set of laws to set a referendum in motion.

By: indicating that at least five per cent of revenue derived by the national government from natural resources is allocated to the communities where the resources are found, Cord members – who are the main drivers – are hoping to earn the support of governors who will end up controlling the resources.

Additionally, if it comes to pass, the referendum will see 45 per cent of national revenue sent to counties, up from the current 15 per cent.

Governors are particularly excited about this proposal although they have a separate push under the banner Pesa Mashinani through which they hope to compel the national government to send more money to the 47 devolved units.

SENATORS EMPOWERED

There has, however, been a long lull in the Pesa Mashinani corner especially after a number of Jubilee governors bulged to pressure from President Uhuru Kenyatta who opposed it.

The chairman of the Council of Governors Peter Munya said they were studying the document.

“We have not taken a position yet but we will do so in the next council meeting on Friday,” he told the Sunday Nation.

Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko, however, says Jubilee’s position on the question of referendum will not change because of the “sweeteners”.

“We may have issues with certain clauses in the constitution that need to be changed for better governance and service to the people but we also hold the view that this is not the right time to polarise the country in such campaigns. A bipartisan route would be the best when executed at the right time,” he said.

Migori Speaker Gordon Ogola, who chairs a technical committee at the County Assemblies Forum, indicated that the counties will support having a ward development fund that is embedded in law.

“We would support such a provision. There is a real danger of paralysing some parts of a county if you do not distribute funds to the wards. This is because of the sad reality of skewed political patronage that tends to reward sycophants,” he said.

Civil society players like John Githongo and religious leaders have also been brought in.

A serving for the MPs is equally factored in.

They will now make a comeback to the Cabinet as the Bill says no more than a third of the Cabinet should be drawn from outside Parliament.

Senators, too, have a take-home as it empowers them to approve the appointment of the Controller of Budget, taking the function away from the National Assembly, as well as the nomination of the auditor- general.

They will, too, approve appointment of the chairperson and other members of the Public Service Commission and also okay deployment of the KDF in any part of the country affected by unrest.

AN UNSTOPPABLE INITIATIVE

The move thrusts the Senate firmly at the centre of public appointments, a departure from what currently looks like “peripheral duties”.

The package also looks into the welfare of minority groups.

“The State shall ensure that at least 30 per cent of all public appointments in any state organ, the national government and its agencies pursuant to this Constitution or other written law, are reserved for marginalised communities. For the purposes of this Article, a marginalised community is any ethnic or racial community that comprises less than three per cent of the population of Kenya,” it says.

Lawyer Paul Mwangi, the chairman of the Committee of Experts that drafted the bill, says politicians will play a major role in the next phase.

“We want to sensitise the political class, the civil society and, importantly, MCAs on the contents of the bill.”

He said the initiative was now unstoppable, hinting that they hope to get as many as 30 counties to endorse the document.

But Jubilee is also not sitting pretty. Already, Jubilee has constituted a team to find possible ways of scuttling the Okoa Kenya initiative.

Mr Kenyatta not only sees it as a waste of resources but also as raising political temperatures too early.

Should it go their way, they say a buoyant opposition would wage a serious battle for the presidency like Mr Odinga did in 2007 after a referendum two years earlier.

This is a scenario Mr Kenyatta may not allow to play out.

He would be comfortable facing a deflated opposition, were they to lose in the referendum.

The outcome of the Orange versus Banana referendum bolstered Mr Odinga’s chances at the presidential poll despite Mr Mwai Kibaki enjoying the advantage of incumbency.

Mr Odinga and his supporters believe to date that victory was stolen from them.

It has been a long winding road for the process conceived when Cord leader Raila returned to the country on May 31 last year following a long stay in the United States.

The process was the culmination of President Kenyatta’s refusal to agree to their demand for a national dialogue.

A draft road map shows that County Assemblies have been grouped into clusters for purposes of reaching out to all of them to have them understand what the referendum seeks to achieve.

POPULAR INITIATIVE

The country has been zoned into five main clusters: Coast, Rift Valley, Western, Nairobi-Eastern and Central.

One thing that Cord knows too well is that the referendum will be lost or won in the county assemblies.

They are, therefore, pulling out all stops to win over as many counties as possible.

Article 257 provides that should 24 counties or more support the referendum questions, the matter would then be taken to the National Assembly and the Senate.

If both Houses of Parliament pass the draft Bill, they should be forwarded to the President for assent without going to a referendum.

The clincher that Cord is relying on is that should either House reject the referendum questions, then they will automatically be presented to the electorate for a vote within 90 days.

This means that Jubilee will be constrained in its advantage tyranny of numbers – in Parliament to block the Opposition’s wish for a referendum.

The law says an amendment to the Constitution may be proposed by a popular initiative signed by at least one million registered voters. Okoa Kenya managed to present 1.4 million signatures to the independent electoral and boundaries commission.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION