Sunday, May 10, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
May 10, 2009

The PNU resolutions after the Nakuru retreat at the weekend were as refreshing as they were unexpected. It was definitely a departure from the usual rhetoric we are accustomed to whenever a political party meets in a hideout. In the past, such resolutions have always bashed opponents in other parties perceived to be in competition for power now or in the foreseeable future.

When Kiraitu Murungi announced the drastic reforms that their party intends to initiate through various bills in Parliament, he reminded me of his days in DP in early 2002 when he and Mwai Kibaki appeared before the Yash Pal Ghai Review Commission. It was at that Commission that Kiraitu articulated reasons why presidential powers needed trimming.

In his well written memorandum, Kiraitu proposed the creation of the post of an executive prime minister and a ceremonial president. However, when Mwai Kibaki won the 2002 elections, Kiraitu seemed to have had second thoughts about an executive prime minister. He fought tooth and nail for five years to ensure presidential powers were never diluted.

The reason why I must hail the PNU top brass is because the changes they are proposing will cure our cut-throat political competition. They are also long overdue. If they see the light of day; it will be less attractive to be a member of parliament if the MPs are denied the flag.

If the proposals pass in parliament, Kenya will for the first time be truly democratic with genuine separation of powers. Elected MPs will not double up as cabinet ministers, assistant ministers and CDF chairmen. Their job will be to be members of parliament with the single purpose of making laws and serving the interests of their constituents.

For a change cabinet ministers will be truly national leaders with no political baggage from their constituents or regions. More importantly there will be no automatic nomination to the cabinet. All nominees will have to appear before a parliamentary select committee and convince parliament that they are professionally, morally and academically fit to hold public office.

In other words, cabinet positions will no longer be the preserve of the president’s or prime minister’s cronies and friends. In other words, mediocrity will find it difficult to find itself in positions of power and influence.

The other proposal that is likely to resonate well with the public is the idea of having two houses of parliament. It is high time Kenya had a House of Representatives and a Senate. Yes, it is time we went back to basics- exactly where we were in 1963 before the Kenyatta regime mutilated the Lancaster House Constitution.

The reason Kenya needs an upper house is because our present parliament has run amok in every sense of the word. It has become a law unto itself. The Parliamentary Service Committee has turned the august house into a trading floor rather than a house of honor.

Public resources being wasted there need some other authority to look at. The two houses will definitely check on each other and in the process safeguard the interests of ordinary Kenyans.

Another good idea that came out of the PNU retreat is the overdue subdivision of existing provinces. I am trying to imagine that because the party is now in support of majimbo government, these 19 provinces as they are proposing will form the little states in a federal government. Whether this will work in the best interest of every community in Kenya is another matter all together.

Interestingly, PNU is suggesting 19 provinces with Rift Valley, Eastern and Central provinces having a total of 9 provinces while leaving Nyanza, North Eastern, Coast, Nairobi and Western to share the remaining 10 new provinces.

What makes it dangerous is the proposal to win a presidential election on the basis of 50 per cent + 1 of votes cast and at least 25% of votes cast in at least five provinces. If this happens, Kenyans will be able to elect a president from just the current Rift Valley, Central and Eastern provinces if the PNU mathematics is anything to go by. Will Kenyans accept this part of the PNU scheme? I doubt it.

However, the mere fact that PNU has taken the plunge to articulate these political reforms is reason enough for Kenyans to sober up and engage in meaningful debate if some good is to come out of this effort. And bearing in mind that these proposals were ODM’s major campaign platform during the 2007 elections and again were the major bones of contention during the Bomas debate; Kenyans will expect ODM parliamentarians to support these proposals when they are finally tabled in the august house.