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BY JOAN WANJIKU,NAIROBI,13TH NOV 2020-Catholic bishops have questioned key proposals of the BBI report and the rationale for rushing to a referendum against the backdrop of a bad economy occasioned by the effects of Covid-19.
They said with the surge in coronavirus infections, it is not the right time “to carry out fundamental constitutional reforms.”
“Hit by Covid-19 pandemic, with the economy affected, does the country have the funds to carry out a referendum before 2022, eighteen months before a General Election that also requires money? Can the country afford to spend its very limited resources on a referendum when there is a struggle in the education and health sectors to provide for urgently needed support due to the effects of Covid-19 pandemic? the bishops asked.
In a statement on Thursday signed by Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops chairman Philip Anyolo, the clerics said issues contained in the Building Bridges Initiative report that do not require a referendum should first be implemented.
“We believe that proposals that are legislative or which require policy or institutional and administrative amendments should be handled by the relevant existing organs and institutions of governance,” they said.
They added, “Those that require constitutional amendment through a referendum should be separated and handled as a cluster to which Kenyans will be subjected for their input through the ballot. This is to avoid rejection of good ideas that have been generated in the BBI report. This is the reason we keep emphasising on building consensus rather than taking sides.”
The bishops expressed strong reservations on four issues in the BBI report which they said must be reviewed.
They took issue with the proposal to expand the Executive by creating the position of the Prime Minister and two deputies and the picking of Cabinet Secretaries from among the members of the National Assembly.
They said with the President being the one picking the PM and the deputies, that will not address the winner-takes-all rallying call, which was the basis of the formation of the BBI task force.
“To give the President the power to appoint the Prime Minister and the two deputies risks consolidating more power around the President thereby creating an imperial presidency. This amendment could be creating the same problem it set out to solve,” they said.
“It is very important to stick to the principle of separation of powers for it is the backbone of democracy.”
The bishops poked holes in the proposal that two senators be elected in each county and the creation of an extra 70 seats in the National Assembly, saying a bloated Parliament would weigh down on taxpayers.
“There is no reason why we should have a large number of legislators. We do not want more government but better government,” they said.
On the proposal that political parties should have a stake in the nomination of IEBC commissioners, the bishops said that would turn the electoral agency into a political outfit.
They said this would compromise the credibility and fairness of an election outcome.
The bishops criticised the proposed formation of the National Police Council under the Interior Cabinet Secretary, noting that it would turn the country into a police state.
The move, they said, would compromise the independence of the police.
The bishops noted that with many concerns that have been raised by Kenyans on proposals in the BBI report, President Uhuru Kenyatta should ensure that wananchi are given adequate time to review the document.
“We should therefore pay attention when discussing and pointing out how the document could be improved while we avoid the risk of taking hardline positions and sectarian demands and ultimatums that could destroy the very meaning and spirit of BBI,” they said.
“By its very nature, the report is a result of the handshake which was born out of dialogue and consultation. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that this process moves on the part of dialogue and consensus-building rather than position-taking,” the bishops said.