NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 26 – The clamour for constitutional changes in the country under the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) was put on hold on Friday after President Uhuru Kenyatta directed both Speakers of the bicameral Parliament to suspend their sittings indefinitely owing to the recent spike in the number of COVID-19 infections in the country.
Dealing a major blow to the proponents of the BBI who were keen to have a national referendum by June, the Head of State asked Speakers Justin Muturi (National Assembly) and Ken Lusaka (Senate) to effect the decision immediately.
“That with the concurrence of the parliamentary leadership of both Houses of Parliament, and with the concurrence of County leadership; the Ordinary Sessions of the August Houses including those of their Committees,” he said.
While singling out the counties of Nairobi, Machakos, Kajiado, Kiambu and Nakuru as regions which have in recent days proved to be hotspots for the virus, the Head of State also directed the leadership of county assemblies to suspend their operations until further notice.
Speaker Muturi notified his members that the sitting which was scheduled for next week on Tuesday will proceed as planned but thereafter, the House will suspend its sittings as directed by the Head of State.
“In furtherance to the Proclamation of the President asking the House to consider suspending its Sittings in order to curb the spread of COVID-19, you are notified that the House will hold its next Sitting on Tuesday, 30th March, 2021 at 2.30pm as earlier scheduled to conclude any urgent business and consider a motion to alter its Calendar in accordance with the Standing Orders. Arrangements will also be made for Hon. Members to have uninterrupted travel to Parliament. Let us all play our part as national leaders to contain the spread of the virus and keep our beloved nation and its people safe,” he said.
The Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020 was due to come up for debate in the National Assembly on April 1, 2021.
A joint Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs which had been conducting public hearings on the Bill on Tuesday requested Speaker Muturi for an additional ten days to finalize the preparation of their report before tabling it in Parliament.
The committee had finalized the public participation hearings after receiving views and memoranda from 65 individuals’ groups and institutions.
The committee co-chaired by Nyamira Senator Okong’o Omogeni and Kangema MP Muturi Kigano held a retreat in Mombasa but returned to Nairobi after they failed to strike a consensus on contentious clauses on the Bill.
The Bill which proposes the expansion of the National Executive by adding the Office of the Prime Minister and two deputies was borne out of a March 2018 truce between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Odinga which ended hostilities sparked by the latter’s rejection of the 2017 presidential election outcome.
The National Assembly on February adjusted its calendar where it introduced evening sittings for Tuesdays and Thursdays. The lawmakers have been having morning sittings as well.
In the revised calendar, the House suspended Wednesday sittings.
The lawmakers had on Thursday asked Speaker Muturi to revise the House calendar and scale down its operations.
The Senate on its part had earlier adopted a motion to revise its calendar and resolved to only have sittings on Tuesday until June 15. The motion that reduced the plenary sittings was introduced by the House Majority Leader Samuel Poghisio.
While giving the directives, President Kenyatta underscored the need for Kenyans to take individual responsibility in fighting the virus and flatten the curve and more importantly have the number of fatalities in the country reduced.
“In moments like this, as a caring Government, it is our solemn duty and cardinal responsibility to protect life above all else. One life lost is one too many. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who have succumbed to this disease,” he said.