Monday, December 8, 2008




By Isaac Ongiri and Peter Opiyo

In what signals the inevitability of the ECK’s demise, some commissioners have started returning equipment provided by the commission.

Commissioners Hamisi Dena and Pamela Tutui have returned laptops and other equipment, on a day ECK employees threatened to go on hunger strike to protect their jobs once the commission is disbanded.

"Yes, the two commissioners have returned some of the equipment supplied to them; they did not say why they were returning them," an ECK official told The Standard.

Meanwhile, ECK could be history before Christmas as efforts to overhaul it enter the home stretch. Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua has convened an informal parliamentary session (kamukunji) tomorrow to lobby support for the Constitutional Amendment Bill.

But ECK Chairman Samuel Kivuitu also spent the weekend lobbying MPs to reject the Bill, even as 200 junior staff called a Press conference yesterday to warn they would go on hunger strike from Wednesday should Parliament resolve to disband the electoral commission.

Ms Karua is expected to table the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2008 when Parliament convenes on Wednesday.

Yesterday, the minister hinted at the possibility of the Bill being hastened to beat the deadline, which means ECK could be disbanded as soon as next week.

According to parliamentary procedure, a Bill cannot be tabled before the lapse of 14 days after publication.

Phone calls

The Bill was published on December 3 and the earliest it can be tabled in the House is December 16.

However, the period can be shortened if a member moves a Motion to that effect and the House approves it.

"It is possible, but I may not pre-empt what Parliament would discuss," said Karua after a church service at the African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa in Bahati, Nairobi.

Mr Kivuitu is reported to have spent the weekend phoning friendly Government officials, including a minister who was in the Serena team, pleading for the rejection of the Bill.

PNU Chief Whip George Thuo confirmed to The Standard that he had received calls from some ECK officials seeking his and other MPs’ support on the Bill.

"Yes, I have received calls from some ECK staff on this matter. In fact, one even visited me at my home in Juja. I know they are contacting many other MPs," Mr Thuo said.

But Karua said it was time for Kenyans to bring electoral reforms, saying: "We should not lose such an opportunity. Let everyone support this process."

She told MPs that the ball was in their court and that Kenyans were watching.

At least 145 MPs, or a two-thirds majority, are needed for a constitutional amendment to sail through.

In a related development, the Government has announced that ECK commissioners’ security and other privileges would be withdrawn as soon as ECK is disbanded.

"As soon as the new law is enacted, we shall immediately recall officers seconded to them," said Internal Security Assistant Minister Orwa Ojode.

Yesterday, the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Administration of Justice and Legal Affairs Mohamed Abdikadir (Mandera Central) said his team had discussed the Bill with the Justice Minister and agreed on the content.

"The minister has convened a kamukunji to enlighten MPs and to build consensus," Mr Abdikadir said.

It also emerged that Karua is also expected to propose the extension of parliamentary sessions up to 9.30pm every day to give MPs adequate time to debate on Bill and others that are time-sensitive.

"As you know, MPs are due to go for recess by December 11. This means that we must conclude debate on all the Bills before us by Thursday," Karua said.

Derail reforms

But there appeared to be a split among MPs yesterday with Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara warning that "some forces" in Government were out to derail the proposed electoral reforms.

Mr Imanyara alleged that some MPs allied to PNU had plans to defeat the Bill.

"I know there has been serious attempts to derail the process. The minister’s resolve to finally bring the much-anticipated reforms is being sabotaged and she has been blocked from accessing President Kibaki," Imanyara claimed. But Karua denied being intimidated, saying she was doing what was expected of her.

"Those are mere rumours. This is a matter that is so consultative," she said.

In supporting her, Thuo — who is the PNU Chief Whip — said: "I am not aware of anyone intimidating the minister or any plot of that nature. In fact, I am just about to send a reminder to PNU MPs to ensure they are all in the House on Wednesday when the Bill is expected to be tabled."

Karua also said the Parliamentary Committee on Administration of Justice and Legal Affairs was fine-tuning the Waki recommendations and was expected to give direction when she could table it before recess.

Law Society of Kenya Chairman Okong’o Omogeni warned MPs against dragging their feet on the Bill.

"No one should be cheeky about this. Let us support Karua, otherwise we shall find ourselves in the same situation in a few years’ time," Mr Omogeni told The Standard on the telephone from Johannesburg, South Africa.