Inside Politics

How night meeting averted row on IEBC selection panel

Friday, January 20th, 2023 06:20 | By
Chebukati's last words to Kenyans as he exits IEBC
Outgoing IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati. PHOTO/IEBC (@IEBCKenya)/Twitter

A Wednesday night meeting by top Kenya Kwanza leadership in Parliament averted a possible clash between them and the opposition over sharing of two slots for the electoral agency’s selection panel.

The last-minute talks also prevented a possible stalemate between the National Assembly and Senate that would have, in essence, delayed the appointment of new commissioners to the electoral agency.

The meeting is said to have prevailed upon Senate’s Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, chaired by Hillary Sigei (Bomet), to drop a raft of proposed amendments that would have seen the two Houses lock horns and, thereby, delay appointment of commissioners to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

That meeting also saved a possible falling-out of Kenya Kwanza and Azimio la Umoja as the Senate Committee had proposed to have one of the two slots that were allocated to the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) given to the Political Parties Liaison Committee (PPLC).

Now, as such, the two slots approved by the National Assembly to be reserved for PSC will be shared between the Minority and Majority sides, avoiding a possible clash. The Senate Committee had come up with proposals to amend IEBC, with an Amendment Bill presented to the Upper House by the National Assembly. Had the Senate proposals sailed through, the two Houses would have had to form mediation teams to reach a consensus.

Drop amendments

Yesterday, ‘People Daily’ established that the meeting held on Wednesday, and attended by Kenya Kwanza top parliamentary leaders, prevailed on Sigei to drop the amendments proposed by his committee.

Sources confided that the leadership of the ruling administration was keen to have the Bill passed, as it was from the National Assembly, so that it could be assented to before the President declares the vacancies at the commission. “We agreed to remove all the amendments because, if they would have proceeded, then it meant we were going to mediation. This process would have taken more time yet this is what we are trying to avoid,” said a Senator.

The National Assembly had said the seven-member selection panel should comprise two persons nominated by the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC), one person nominated by the Public Service Commission (PSC), one by the Political Parties Liaison Committee (PPLC), one by Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and two by the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK).

The Justice and Legal Affairs Committee report tabled in the Senate yesterday had suggested the Bill be amended to reduce the number of nominees by the Parliamentary Service Commission from two to one, while PPLC should get two slots instead of one, as approved by the National Assembly.

“The Committee recommends that the Bill further be amended to provide for two persons, to be nominated by the Majority and Minority, represented at PPLC. This will ensure that the conflict of interest posed by IEBC’s participation in PPLC is eliminated,” the report reads.

Court judgement

According to the Committee report, the Bill seeks to comply with the judgement of the High Court in the petition: Okiya Omtatah Vs Attorney General and five others, in ensuring that no single entity nominated the majority of members of the selection panel, thus getting undue power.

When the Bill was tabled in the House, attempts by some Azimio-allied Senators to move an amendment to drop representatives from PSC, on grounds that their representation would increase the number of nominees of the Executive, were defeated.

Oburu Odinga (Siaya), while supporting the committee report, said PSC should not have a representation in the Selection Panel and that such a slot should instead be donated to PPLC. “What business does PSC have in the selection of commissioners? One slot to go to Minority and (another to) Majority sides, just like in the Political Parties Liaison Committee,” said Oburu.

He further averred that two slots should be given to the Inter-Religious Council, adding that the Bill should be specific that one person each should be nominated by Christian and Muslim communities.

Nominated Senator Catherine Mumma, while contributing to debate in the House, put a spirited fight to drop the representation of PSC, a move that was thwarted by the Majority side. According to Mumma, the Selection Panel should consist of one man and one woman nominated by PSC, one man and one woman nominated by the Majority and Minority political parties represented in the PPLC at the national level, one person nominated by LSK, and one man and one woman nominated by IRCK.

The majority, led by Aaron Cheruiyot (Kericho), said that removal of the representation of PSC was not in the best interest of Kenya, adding that the institution represents people with immense institutional memory. When you compare PSC, a body corporate established by the Constitution and not by statute, that nominates its members, have those members approved by the National Assembly where you have both Majority and Minority, with PPLC, we are being misled,” said the Majority leader.

Julius Gataya (Tharaka Nithi) opposed Mumma’s proposals, saying that PSC brings on board several sectors in the society, and it would be unfair to deny it a slot in the selection panel.

Senate Majority Whip Boni Khalwale (Kakamega) appealed to Mumma to think long and hard about her proposed amendment, saying that the House works best through a committee system.

The President has until next Tuesday to declare the positions at the commission vacant, which will then pave the way for recruitment of new commissioners.

Section 7A (2) of the IEBC Act provides that the President shall declare a vacancy in the commission within seven days of the occurrence of a vacancy.

Six positions, including that of the chairperson, are up for grabs following the retirement of Wafula Chebukati (chairman), Boya Molu and Abdi Guliye. Three commissioners: Juliana Cherera, Justus Nyangáya and Francis Wanderi, resigned last year following the setting up of a tribunal to investigate their conduct.

“This selection panel for IEBC is the most important in this country. We have had problems with nearly all the IEBC teams, except the one picked by IPPG. The appointment of the commissioners is political, although the selection is done by a seven-member team,” said Mumma.

He went on: “I struggle as a person on how as a House we can take the position of PSC and give it to PPLC. We cannot legislate ourselves out of work. Senator Omtatah has already reduced us, as Parliament, from four to two and now ourselves as MPs we want to reduce ourselves from two to one.”

“This is a body that brings on board a number of players. This is a serious body. In this respect, I honourably oppose those amendments,” said Gataya.

“Under parliamentary practice, relying on the committee, the chair having folded, the committee has folded. The provision of the Constitution supersedes any statute. The Senate and National Assembly are in agreement,” said Khalwale.

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