Co-chairs of joint committee on collision course over BBI

By People Team
Wednesday, April 7th, 2021
Joint legal committee of the Senate and National Assembly co-chairs Muturi Kigano (left) and Okong’o Omogeni. Photo/PD/Samuel Kariuki
In summary
    • Experts have agreed with IEBC on the duration it would take to create the proposed 70 new constituencies.
    • According to the experts, delimitation of the new electoral units will take at least 12 months.
    • The BBI Bill states that the constituencies should be created six months after the adoption of the document but the IEBC says the time is too short.

Anthony Mwangi and Hillary Mageka 

Confusion and division have emerged within the leadership of the joint House team compiling a report on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) even as President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition chief Raila Odinga push for its tabling in Parliament.

The committee, which is co-chaired by Kangema MP Muturi Kigano and Nyamira Senator Okong’o Omogeni, had been listening to expert views on the report with the Speaker of National Assembly ruling that the document be tabled by last Thursday.   

While Kigano wants the meeting to be convened as early as this Friday, Omogeni ruled out a physical meeting due to the President’s directives on Covid-19.

It was apparent that the National Assembly team was keen to fast-track the passing of the report but the Senate team was flexing its muscle claiming there was no urgency.

“I am in the process of organising a meeting preferably this Friday. We need to put a closure to this matter,” said Kigano.

He said after he consults with his co-chair, he would then write to National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi to call for a Special Sitting for the report to be tabled.

But Omogeni dismissed the idea of holding a meeting at this time, citing the Covid-19 threat.

“It’s not worthy to ignore the looming danger posed by Covid at a time our ICU beds are strained to capacity and call for physical sittings just days after laying to rest a Member of Parliament who succumbed to the disease.”

The Nyamira Senator said the BBI was “not an urgent matter worth putting the lives of MPs at risk”. 

Omogeni chairs the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights while Kigano leads the Justice and Legal Affairs team in the National Assembly.

Standing Orders dictate that only the chair of a committee can call a meeting.

A virtual meeting has also been ruled out since members have to sit with the secretariat to deliberate on the disputed areas.

“It is not likely that the committee will hold a virtual meeting. We need to sit with the secretariat physically to discuss a report compiled by the two consultants we hired last week and also on the contentious delimitation issue,” Kigano said.   

Uhuru and Raila are said to have met with the leadership of the joint committee last week and asked them to reconvene immediately to catch up with a tight referendum timeline whose certainty is in limbo.

Suspension of sittings

According to the schedule released on November 2, 2020, Parliament should have dispensed with the BBI Bill by April 5, 2021 before it goes to a referendum on or before June 6.

“The committee leadership met with the President and ODM leader to iron out issues that had played out on the floor of the House and the public, these issues had to be addressed,” Igembe North MP Maoka Maore told People Daily on Monday.

“We expect the committee to look at the experts’ submission and finalise their consideration on the bill,” Maore, who is the National Assembly Deputy Majority whip added.

Muturi had given the Joint committee up to April 1 to table the report but following the suspension of sittings, he is expected to give a new date.

The Clerk of the National Assembly Michael Sialai said he was waiting for the joint committee to finalise  its report after which the majority leader can call for a special sitting.

“We are waiting for the joint committee to compile its report. If it is done this week, a special sitting will be called next week,” Sialai told People Daily.

 The committee sittings had stalled temporally following differences within it on contentious issues that have threatened to derail the referendum process.

Nairobi Senator Johnstone Sakaja, who sits in the joint committee, told People Daily that the co-chairs were consulting on a date probably Thursday so that members could be taken through the report by consultants before preparation of their report.

“We have agreed to meet sometime this week (Thursday) to consider their report and finalise our report writing in readiness for May 4,” Sakaja said.

“But we have also agreed that the report should be tabled in both Houses immediately we resume from recess,” he added. 

Prof Patricia Kameri-Mbote, a candidate for the vacant Chief Justice Position, and Dr Collins Odote, a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi, were the legal experts hired by the committee to help them answer the sticky question of whether Parliament can re-open the referendum Bill and effect changes before they vote on it.

People Daily has learnt that the experts have advised the MPs against amending the bill arguing that after its passage it will be contested in a court of law.

“The Bill is the product of a popular initiative as stipulated in Article 257 of the Constitution and to avoid any litigation Parliament should consider it as it is,”  excerpt of the document reads.

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