Friday, March 12, 2010



By Alex Ndegwa and Beauttah Omanga

What was looking like a final trouble-free ride to a new constitution after 20 luckless years is being eclipsed by another fresh row among coalition partners.

Party of National Unity and Orange Democratic Movement heavyweights held separate meetings after which they locked horns as a petition to amend the Proposed Constitution already signed by 79 MPs, among them 10 PNU ministers circulated. The petition states in order to reach consensus on the draft Constitution two-thirds of all MPs are requested to sign the form. Curiously, among those who have signed it, against Orange Democratic Movement’s decision it should be adopted as it is are 10 Rift Valley MPs aligned to Agriculture minister William Ruto who is at loggerheads with Prime minister Raila Odinga who supports the document as it is today. This is yet another indication the Rift MPs will vote on the amendments to the draft alongside PNU.

PNU leaders led by Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka met on Thursday and blamed Prime Minister Raila Odinga for last-minute blockage of the Naivasha retreat at which the party wanted to push through its preferred amendments to the Proposed Constitution.

ODM, Raila’s party, wants the Proposed Constitution passed in its present form. The PNU side said it would push on with the pressure for amendments, starting with a fresh bid for another retreat in Naivasha next week.

As PNU leaders met at Panafric Hotel, Nairobi, ODM top guns were in talks at the Orange House, the party headquarters.

Led by Chairman Henry Kosgei and Secretary General Anyang’ Nyong’o, Raila’s squad defended their party leader against PNU claims, arguing the decision to skip the three-day retreat, facilitated by Parliament, was a ‘parliamentary not party affair’.

Rogue Organisation

As a further sign of the suspicions between the two groups, ODM accused PNU of converting the country’s national security spy and anti-corruption unit into tools to tarnish reputations and settle scores in the war on corruption.

Nyong’o said the National Security Intelligence Service "is now a rogue organisation" working hand in glove with KACC to serve "partisan forces", by leaking Government documents" to misinform the country and discredit "crusaders against corruption".

The two, whose political compromises could guarantee realisation of a new constitution, clawed at each other even as time became of essence for Parliament to debate the Proposed Constitution, especially with the March 31 deadline beckoning.

President Kibaki’s PNU accused Raila of scheming to have a constitution of his choice. But ODM countered it should not be blamed for Parliament’s decision.

A Motion to adjourn the House on Wednesday evening to allow MPs travel to Naivasha, was defeated after 25 MPs — mainly from ODM — voted against it with 23, largely drawn from PNU, supporting.

Preferred Changes

PNU’s preferred amendments are similar with those of Parliamentary Select Committee, whose members were already in Naivasha waiting for the whole House on Wednesday.

The amendments include:

• Transitional clauses compelling President to consult the PM on major appointments until a new constitution is enacted.

• A Senate inferior to Parliament

• No blanket sacking and vetting of judges

• No clause allowing abortion to protect document from being rejected.

• Opposition to recall clause for non-performing MPs.

ODM, like the Committee of Experts, which PNU accuses of ignoring political compromises in Naivasha, argues the document should be adopted as it is because it reflects the wishes of the majority.

On Thursday, Speaker Kenneth Marende told the House there was no point-crying foul over the fate of the retreat since those in favour ought to have been in the House to vote for the adjournment Motion.

After a three-hour Parliamentary Group meeting chaired by Kalonzo and attended by about 40 MPs, PNU claimed the PM was blocking efforts to build consensus ahead of debate in the House scheduled for Tuesday.

PNU Plot

They further claimed Raila rallied a clique of ODM MPs to shoot down the adjournment Motion, which would have freed Members from the business of the House.

Kosgei and Nyong’o led the Orange MPs — who alleged a plot by PNU to ‘mutilate’ the Proposed Constitution in Naivasha — in rejecting the Motion. ODM allied ministers Musalia Mudavadi, Joseph Nyaga, Charity Ngilu, Chris Obure, Dalmas Otieno, and William ole Ntimama voted with their party. Two ministers allied to PNU – Kiraitu Murungi and George Saitoti — voted for the ‘yes’ side, which lost.

"We are holding the PM responsible for the failure to have all MPs move to Naivasha for the retreat. We are challenging him to state whether he is really interested in a new constitution," stated the statement read by Assistant Minister Peter Munya.

PNU, whose meeting was attended by Cabinet ministers Sam Ongeri, Amos Kimunya, Naomi Shaban, Saitoti and Kiraitu, accused the PM of lacking commitment and scheming to cause tension like that which preceded the 2005 referendum, which the Kibaki side lost.

ODM denied it sabotaged the retreat: "It is Parliament which passed a resolution opposing adjournment. It is not ODM which has stopped the meeting," Nyong’o read the statement.

The Medical Services Minister said: "The Orange Democratic Movement’s objective is to ensure the constitution is adopted as proposed by the Committee of Experts."

But PNU wondered why ODM had not raised objections to the retreat on March 2, when the Speaker made the announcement. "When the Speaker floated the idea there was no opposition. It is Parliament’s tradition to meet in a Kamukunji (informally) ahead of any constitutional debate. Why has the PM changed this?" posed Munya.

Another retreat

PNU allied MPs resolved to schedule another retreat next week. Munya added: "Constitution making is not a preserve of some leaders who want to use it as a campaign tool in the next elections."

Munya and Nominated MP George Nyamweya claimed PNU will have its way "whether ODM accepts or not".

PNU also castigated CoE, saying the Nzamba Kitonga team were not the "final authority" in the process, but one of the many organs mandated to drive the process and "nobody should assume that they are superior to Parliament".

"Those people who are out to belittle Parliament by merely using it as a formality, should know that the National Assembly is not and cannot be a rubber stamp in constitution making," said Nyamweya.

But as the war of words raged time was running out as the Constitution of Kenya Review Act 2008, stipulates Parliament debates the Proposed Constitution within 30 days, which lapses on March 31. Tabling of the Proposed Constitution on March 2 marked the countdown, said Marende.

Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo said: "By today we have 19 days to go because the clock is not waiting for us. The retreat would have been a good opportunity for members to build consensus although it is not provided for in law." He added debate on the Proposed Constitution would now begin on Tuesday.