Monday, May 18, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
May 10, 2009

The PNU resolutions after the Nakuru retreat at the weekend were as different they were unexpected. It was definitely a departure from the usual rhetoric we are accustomed to whenever a coalition partner meets in a hideout.

In the past, such resolutions from whichever partner 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 the constitution review forum, 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 now were actually proposed by Wanjiku 10 years ago; and as they say, better late than never. They are also long overdue. If these proposals are not derailed again by vested interests as they were done at Bomas in 2003, they will make being a member of parliament less attractive than it is now.

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. Presumably all cabinet nominees, including the AG’s office, judges and police chiefs 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, constitutional offices will no longer be the preserve of the president’s or prime minister’s cronies and friends. 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. However, I failed to understand why they did not settle for 20 regions as contained in the Bomas Draft.

The Bomas Draft that proposed 20 regions was in favor of full devolution of power to these regions and a full parliamentary system. I therefore failed to understand PNU’S half-hearted conversion to majimboism, a system they had vehemently opposed in 2007. However, whether their 19 province idea and a high-breed system they are proposing 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. Is this a mathematical ploy for a presidential win with just 3 of the current 8 provinces?

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 it rather than bashing them.