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BBI train faces hurdles in Parliament over ‘unattainable’ provisions

While Senators engaged in a back-and-forth debate after Chairperson of the Senate Justice and Legal Affairs Committee Okong’o Omogeni (Nyamira) revealed that the Committee found some of the BBI Bill provisions unconstitutional, unattainable and unreasonable, the National Assembly contended with weather or not to consider memoranda submitted to a joint parliamentary committee to amend the Bill.

NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 29 – Drama, confusion and theatrics took center stage Wednesday when Parliament commenced debate on the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020 also known as the Building Bridged Initiative (BBI) which is in its second reading.

While Senators engaged in a back-and-forth debate after Chairperson of the Senate Justice and Legal Affairs Committee Okong’o Omogeni (Nyamira) revealed that the Committee found some of the BBI Bill provisions unconstitutional, unattainable and unreasonable, the National Assembly contended with weather or not to consider memoranda submitted to a joint parliamentary committee to amend the Bill. 

While citing the recommendation to have a Judiciary Ombudsman, Omogeni said it would be unconstitutional and an attempt to cripple the independence of the apex court if the Bill is passed as it is. 

“Clause 172 c (a) says that the Judicial Service Commission will receive complaints against Judges, investigate them then discipline judges by warning and suspending them. We took very strong exception on this clause and our report has made pronouncements that this particular clause is unconstitutional and if we had powers, it should be deleted from the BBI report,” he said.

His remarks were however received with a lot of confusion among senators led by Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula and his Bomet and Makueni counterparts Christopher Lang’at and Enock Wambua who argued that history would judge the House harshly for passing a document that contains unconstitutional provisions.  

“If the input is illegitimate, the outcome cannot be legitimate. The statement from chair is that this matter is unconstitutional, and he went ahead and compounded it further by saying that we can pass this document that contains unconstitutional provisions and those aggrieved they can go to court after we pass unconstitutional amendment,” Wetangula said.

The Senate also adjourned its sittings twice – the first on request of members and the second triggered by the arrest of Meru Senator Mithika Linturi by agents from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.

Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka conceded to members’ requests and adjourned the morning sitting after a majority of members said they had not gone through the document and noted that it would be improper to proceed without familiarizing themselves with its contents.

Later during the afternoon session, drama ensued after Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot notified members that Senator Linturi had been arrested by detectives drawn from the DCI while en route to the chambers for the debate.

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“I want to bring to your attention something that has just happened which will perhaps require your direction and guidance. I received a distress call from one of our colleagues’. On his way to Parliament, he was stopped by a gentleman who claimed to be police officers from the DCI,” he said.

The members led by the House Minority Leader James Orengo demanded for Linturi’s immediate whereabouts before the House would proceed with the debate. Speaker Lusaka suspended the sitting for 30 minutes.

“This is not a simple matter. This issue has everything to do with liberties of Parliament. I therefore join my colleagues in requesting that we adjourn this sitting until we know where Senator is,” he said.

Senator Linturi whose alleged arrest was linked to his Sh530 million bank forgery claim later showed up in the Senate calming the nerves of the Senators.

“I am just from the office of the DCI and I want to assure you that the experience I have had was not good. I am a person who obeys the law, and it would have been prudent if I was summoned to appear to DCI’s office instead of being picked up in the manner I was picked up. The timing was wrong, and I can just read mischief,” Linturi said. 

In the National Assembly, attempts by Tharaka MP Gitonga Murugara to adjourn the sittings on similar grounds as that of their counterparts in the Senate that they had not perused the document were shut down.

A second attempt by Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro to also paralyze the sitting following the arrest of Senator Linturi was also thwarted.

National Assembly leadership rallied members to support the Bill with the House Majority Leader Amos Kimunya who moved the Bill noting that it’s passage will be critical in Kenya attaining the much-needed reforms in the country.

“I wish to ask members that we are being called upon to join this revolution to change Kenya to a better place so that our future children can have a place that they will say there were people before us who following what happened in 2010 took a constitutional moment and made the constitution much better guaranteed us a future that will ensure that we will be better off,” he said.

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While downplaying talk of the Bill having some serious weighty constitutional issues, Minority Leader John Mbadi noted that Kenyans should have the final say on the document through a national referendum and that no amendment should be done on the document.

“What we do not want to hear is that this Bill can be signed into law without going into a referendum, that cannot happen. This Bill must go to Kenyans for validation and in this regard I urge members to approve it as one Bill. We cannot have multiple Bills in one Bill,” he said.

House Minority Whip Junet Mohammed who is one of the key promoters of the initiative noted that a mutilation of the Bill would amount to a great injustice to Kenyans.

“This is a Bill that we are doing for posterity. The Bill should not be mutilated at any cost,” he said.

The debate was scheduled to resume Tuesday in both Houses even as National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi noted that the debate will only conclude at a time when every member gets to contribute on the Bill.

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