NAIROBI, November 17 – The unity of purpose achieved through the formation of the Grand Coalition government has presented the country with a suitable moment to deliver a new constitution, President Mwai Kibaki has said.
Speaking at Safari Park Hotel on Monday while officially opening the National Seminar on the Role of Parliament in the Reconciliation and Institutional Reform Process in Kenya, President Kibaki noted that the Tenth Parliament was uniquely placed to achieve the delivery of a new constitution.
The President said that many of the current challenges facing the country particularly those contained in Agenda Four of the Serena talks would be comprehensively addressed through a new constitution.
The Head of State noted that the country has taken bold steps towards the achievement of a new constitution citing the passing of the Constitutional of Kenya Review Bill which he will assent to soon.
President Kibaki said that the envisioned constitution must not only address modern day challenges but also provide a frame work for future generations to harness the opportunities that may arise.
He said: “I am aware of the urgency members of the public have attached to a new constitutional dispensation. We must also handle the constitutional agenda carefully and soberly.”
During the occasion President Kibaki challenged the parliamentarians to discuss issues confronting the country freely and frankly as a strong foundation on which to build a stable and prosperous democracy.
“I appeal to all participants to ensure that this seminar makes concrete and realistic recommendations in the form of a Parliamentary Action Plan which will assist in addressing the challenges facing Kenya both in terms of reconciling our people and carrying out institutional reforms,” said President Kibaki.
The Head of State told the participants that the government was working towards the establishment of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to review past and recent grievances and enquire into human rights violations.
He noted: “It is my conviction that these processes will enable Kenyans to discuss and debate the various issues facing our nation.”
President Kibaki appealed to Kenyans to dedicate themselves to promoting national healing and reconciliation as well as strive to adopt a forward looking mentality.
“We must learn from the mistakes of the past, but not to the extent of turning our backs against the future. We must maintain our focus on the future because the younger generation is looking up to us for answers to the challenges they are continuing to face,” said the Head of State.
The President assured the participants and Kenyans in general of the government’s full support of the ongoing reforms as well as all vital recommendations made by the seminar.
In this regard, he said that considerable progress had been made through introduction of legal and institutional reforms giving the example of the Political Parties Act which offers a frame work to overcome the challenges in the management and growth of viable political parties.
The President said: “This Act will go along way in ensuring that political parties play the role of national integration, and have a national outlook as well as coherent ideological and policy commitments that promote national stability and economic development.”
President Kibaki challenged Members of Parliament to rise above selfish and partisan commitments and focus on an agenda that is good for the country as a whole.
He expressed the commitment of his government to strengthen Parliament as the supreme organ of the State which can lead the way in transforming the country for the collective benefit of all Kenyans.
The President said, “Parliament must also remain sensitive to the realities in our nation and the hard economic times that the ordinary citizens are facing. We have many competing economic and social demands. This calls for the highest sense of responsibility and patriotism amongst all Parliamentarians.”
The Head of State termed unemployment and under-employment among the youth as one of the critical challenges facing the country.
He observed: “Every year, 800,000 are joining the labour force. We must give priority to this issue in all our deliberations because we must engage our youth to make them feel proud of this country as a free and just home of opportunity.”
With regard to electoral reforms, the President said that a committee had been constituted to develop an action plan for implementing recommendations proposed by the Kriegler Commission.
“The action plan is presently being developed to pave way for the implementation of appropriate reforms,” said the Head of State.
The President commended the topics scheduled for discussion terming them relevant and timely particularly coming after the country experienced unprecedented challenges at the beginning of this year.
The Head of State observed: “The events that unfolded brought to fore underlying structural and institutional constraints that call for a broad reform agenda involving comprehensive constitutional and electoral reforms.”
Speaking during the same occasion Prime Minister Raila Odinga urged parliamentarians to desist from making statements that divide Kenyans along ethnic lines for selfish and narrow interests.
The Prime Minister called on political leaders not to retreat to their ethnic cocoons while dealing with crucial and crosscutting issues of national and even international interest.
He also cited occasions when the Parliament failed to seize opportunities to address sensitive issues that have afflicted the country until the founding fathers left the stage particularly land problems which formed the centre of the struggle for independence.
The Prime Minister also cited the turning of the country into a one party State by the Parliament in 1980s and the ensuing struggles that led to restoration of multiparty democracy in the country.
Other Speakers during the occasion were Speaker of the National Assembly Kenneth Marende, Justice, National Reconciliation and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Martha Karua and representatives of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The Seminar was attended by several Cabinet Ministers, Assistant Ministers, Members of the Parliament, senior government officials and representatives of the civil society organisations among others.