Concerns raised as BBI referendum funds not factored in budget

Thursday, February 20th, 2020 07:22 | By
President William Ruto, former President Uhuru and Raila Odinga during BBI Report launch. PHOTO/Courtesy

The National Treasury has not factored in money for the referendum in the current budget even as the push for the plebiscite on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) gathers momentum.

And yesterday, concerns emerged that the referendum might not be this year unless the cash is sourced through a Supplementary Budget.

But Kitui Central MP Makali Mulu, a member of the Budget and Appropriation Committee, allayed fear on the referendum, saying the Treasury can still spend money for plebiscite even if it is not factored for in the budget.

“The law allows the National Treasury to spend and then come to Parliament for regularisation. Money can be spent on a plebiscite and then the CS comes to Parliament for the expenditure to be regularised,” he explained.

He said there was no need for alarm because the country has yet to craft the referendum question. “It is still too early for money to be set aside for the process,” he added.

Financial year

Vihiga Senator George Khaniri said it was strange that the National Treasury has not factored money for a referendum in the current financial year.

“I have not seen the Budget Policy Statement but it is strange if money for a referendum has not been set aside,” he said.

Deputy Parliamentary Budget Office director Martin Masinde saw the omission as indication that referendum is not one of the priorities of the Treasury, which is grappling with a tight budget.

“By failing to set aside money to finance a referendum, the National Treasury Cabinet secretary shows that it is not among its priority areas for the financial year,” he said. 

But he said doors were not closed since a Supplementary Budget can still be brought for Parliament to approve for the funds to finance a referendum.

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati is on record saying the commission will require Sh12 billion for a referendum. 

In the current financial year, the IEBC has been allocated Sh4.5 billion, the bulk of it which will be for the delimitation of boundaries, an exercise which kicks off next month.

According to Chebukati, a referendum is not an activity that is budgeted for in advance because it was not planned.

“At an opportune time, the commission would request the National Treasury for money to fund the activity,” he said.

Last week, Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who has taken a frontline position in driving the BBI, hinted that a referendum to amend the Constitution could be held this year.

He told politicians, who are still undecided on the reform agenda to declare their stand.

Under the law, before a referendum is held at least one million signatures must be collected and submitted to the commission and a draft bill for the proposed amendments published.

Raila has been consisted that a plebiscite will be held this year. “This year is going to be a year of change in this country. We want to look at our governance structures and see what needs to be rectified,” he said recently.

Expand Executive

But Deputy President William Ruto has opposed a referendum whose objective will be to expand the Executive and instead proposes the creation of an office of the opposition leader to keep the government of the day in check.

The DP also suggests that a referendum, a boundary review and a General Election in the space of five years are not economically viable.

Raila says the plebiscite will be conducted with no coercion and that consensus will be sought for all to be aboard.

“This is a democratic exercise and Kenyans will not be forced to do one thing or the other. It is going to be voluntary and, at the end of it, we will decide how we are going to transform the governance structure as the people of Kenya,” he said.

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