ODM leader Raila Odinga at a rally in Kibra on Sunday, November 3, 2019.
ODM leader Raila Odinga at a rally in Kibra on Sunday, November 3, 2019.

By Reporter

ODM leaders have issued fresh demands to radically amend the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report barely a week after President Uhuru Kenyatta extended the tenure of the task force.

On Tuesday, MPs confronted their ODM party boss Raila Odinga with the new demands, including having a powerful Prime Minister with two deputies.

Early reports said the BBI would recommend a powerful executive prime minister but that idea encountered resistance they watered it down to make it milder and less likely to ruffle feathers with major governance changes.

The ODM leaders, in their last joint Parliamentary Group and National Executive Council meeting for this year, poked holes into the BBI document launched with much fanfare last month. Deputy President William Ruto is fiercely opposed to a powerful PM who would overshadow the president he aims to become.

Speaker after speaker during the meeting at a Lavington hotel vigorously called for an executive Premier who would be the head of government. The session lasted for several hours.

For inclusivity, some leaders recommended the executive should be expanded to include two deputy PM slots, one below the age of 45 to represent younger people.

The clamour for fresh amendments to the report is likely to trigger political fireworks, with DP Ruto’s allies already threatening to reject any attempt to amend the report.

President Kenyatta’s backyard has been jittery about a parliamentary system, saying the present electoral units would disadvantage the region.

However, in their official communiqué to the public, ODM said only that the party would submit a detailed presentation to the task force.

Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga at the launch of the BBI Report.
Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga at the launch of the BBI Report.
Image: DPPS

“It has been resolved that we engage in an honest and sober debate on the many recommendations and that the party shall submit a detailed position on all areas to the BBI team of experts when the time comes,” ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna announced.

The BBI team led by Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji made watered-down proposals to alter the structure of the Executive, creating a non-executive Prime Minister.

According to the report, the PM would be chosen by the President from MPs in the majority party in the National Assembly.

The 14-man BBI team also wants the president to remain the head of state, head of government and commander-in-chief of the Defence Forces. That recommendation is not expected to change the winner-take-all mentality and presidential system that cause tension and violence in every election cycle.

These BBI proposals form ODM’s major reservations about the document. They want it amended in the second phase of the BBI engagement.

Addressing the meeting, Raila set the stage when he hinted at fundamental changes to the document in the second phase of the BBI process, another look at the recommendations.

Terming the second phase of BBI a makeover for the country, Raila, now an AU envoy, said he outcome will redesign Kenya’s political architecture.

“From here on, what we should be debating is what to adopt, what to amend and what to discard out of the BBI proposals,” Raila said.

Taking a cue from the former PM, the lawmakers expressed reservations about five key proposals that they said should be amended when the BBI team starts a new round of countrywide hearings next year.

A source who attended the hotel meeting said the MPs cited the model of the Executive, resource allocation between the two levels of government and a proposal on appointment of election officials as among the areas that need redress.

They demanded a clear timeline for a referendum to implement the improved BBI document.

Speaker after speaker opposed the BBI recommendation for the president to have powers to hire and fire the PM. Instead, they called for a PM who runs all the affairs of government.

The MPs argue that BBI’s proposed model risks putting the country into the hands of a too-powerful president with nobody to check or veto his excesses.

Embakasi East MP Babu Owino is said to have argued for two deputy prime ministers, one of whom should represent younger leaders, not the old and familiar faces.

“There should be an Executive Prime Minister and also the PM should have two deputies, with one below the age of 45, Babu is said to have argued.

On resource allocation, the ODM lawmakers expressed support for the 35 per cent for counties proposed in the BBI report but they want further amendment so that it is based on the last audited accounts, and not on the budget.

The move, they said, will ensure enough resources are devolved to counties to ensure devolution works as envisioned by the framers of the Constitution.

Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, who is also the ODM secretary for political affairs, termed the increased allocation one of the best proposals made by the BBI team.

“One of the key low-hanging fruits is the matter of revenue allocation. There is mischief this law wants to cure,” Wandayi said.

ODM also appeared to have issues with the proposal to limit the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s Returning Officers to one election, saying the move is unnecessary.

The party instead wants the focus to be on preventing electoral malpractice and punishing implicated individuations, instead of changing all Returning Officers wholesale.

“We are also of the view that the proposal that limits IEBC Returning Officers to one election and restricts procurement officers to a two-year contract would be counterproductive,” ODM secretary general Sifuna told a press conference after the meeting.

Leaders also pushed for a referendum to implement an improved BBI document.

A source told the Star that ODM’s Youth League chair John Ketora first proposed a referendum conducted in June 2020, an idea backed by almost all officials.

The ODM boss who did not attend the media briefing assured officials and lawmakers that all the issues they raised will form the party’s position to the BBI team next year.

“The concerns you have raised are noted and the deliberations will help in making our party position that we will present to the BBI team,” Raila said.

Sifuna told journalists that the party will, however, be open to sacrifice and compromise on some demands in the spirit of give and take.

“As a party, we are cognizant of the fact that this process is a consultative give and take and that no one party or individual can bulldoze the discussion or indeed the outcome,” Sifuna said.

He also maintained the report will be carried out by referendum as opposed to the parliamentary initiative being pushed by DP Ruto and his allies.