The Top 2 reasons why Punguza Mizigo Initiative will go nowhere

I have personally endorsed the Punguza Mizigo Initiative by the Thirdway Alliance, terming it “beautiful” and “worthy of your support”. The impressive beats in the Punguza Mizigo Bill include the proposal for a 7 years one term limit for the office of the President (although this should be extended to the office of the Governors), the reduction in the size of Parliament from the current 416 to 147 where National Assembly shall have 100 members as the Senate gets elevated to the Upper House of 47 members, and the requirement that the wards be the units for grassroot development initiatives hence take control of the current CDF kitty. That is, if every ward had good roads, good schools, good hospitals, and good other government services, then we’d agree that the country generally is well developed. Despite these beautiful proposals, the Punguza Mizigo Initiative has two major problems as has been discovered by the Speaker of Kisumu County Assembly Onyango Oloo.

Reason 1: The Punguza Mizigo Message is good, but from a wrong messenger

In an article by The Standard, Onyango Oloo is quoted as saying that the bill has good provisions, but those presenting the Bill to the Nation are not the right people. “The message may be right but the messenger …” said Oloo. This is akin to “shooting the messenger” where in war times a messenger would be sent from one camp to another, but if the messenger was a bearer of bad news, the receiving camp would blame the messenger for the bad news, hence shoot him, dead. In the case of Punguza Mizigo Initiative, we have a messenger who has good news, but the messenger himself is not the right person to deliver that news. This scenario has made many Kenyans be skeptic on the possibility of Punguza Mizigo succeeding to ultimately change the Constitution, as Thirdway Alliance and Ekuru Aukot do not have enough clout to marshal support for the Bill. Most of these Kenyans are waiting for President Uhuru Kenyatta, his Deputy William Ruto, and Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga to tell them to support or not to support the bill; a scenario that has forced Ephraim Njega to ask,

There are these people whose reason for not supporting something is usually that “it wouldn’t succeed.” Do you support something because its chances of success are high or because it is good?

The lieutenants of the three top politicians in the country have however expressed their dissatisfaction with the Bill, with those aligned to Raila Odinga asking IEBC and Thirdway Alliance to wait for the Building Bridges Initiative to table their report, so that the Punguza Mizigo Bill can be considered alongside the BBI. Others aligned to William Ruto especially the women have criticized the Bill for proposing that the seats for Women Representatives ought to be abolished. Recently, the Woman Representative for Nairobi Esther Passaris trended on Twitter for supporting the MPs, demand for 17 allowances that would see most of them triple their salaries. Her support made many question whether indeed the country needs to have the special seats for Women Representation, which was created as a way to easily meet the elusive one third gender rule that is enshrined in the current constitution. The Punguza Mizigo Bill on the other hand proposes that the National Assembly shall be composed of at least 47 women, such that even if only men are elected to the Senate, the entire Parliament shall have met the one third gender rule.

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The bad messenger argument which is likely to deter the bill from progressing to the referendum is however very detrimental to the country. Shooting down a good message simple because the bearer of the message is not the conducive messenger implies that if a conducive messenger comes with a bad message, the bad message will see the light of the day. This was actually the case in 2010 when a largely bad constitution that has brought us to where we are today was almost unanimously past by all Kenyans, given that the top brass politicians including Raila Odinga, Mwai Kibaki, and Uhuru Kenyatta rallied their supporters to vote for the constitution. The same top brass politicians considered as the good messengers are now preparing the Building Bridges Initiative, an Initiative that is likely to contain proposals such as creation of a Parliamentary System of Government that will introduce more political offices such as that of the Prime Minister and several Deputies, and even expand  both the Executive and Parliament so that more of political losers can get a piece of the pie. Actually the argument by the BBI team is on the line of Kenya’s problems are caused by the winner takes it all type of Government, instead of focusing on economic livelihood of the so called Wanjiku.

Reason 2: The Timing is wrong

The Timing is Wrong is still an argument by The Speaker of Kisumu County Assembly Onyango Oloo who reasons that Punguza Mizigo ought to have waited for the BBI team to table their report, then Ekuru Aukot’s proposals could be considered within the BBI Initiative, and to some extent I agree.

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It is largely expected that Constitutional Amendment Proposals that would come out of the Building Bridges Initiatives will be taken to a referendum scheduled for to be done on the same day as 2022 General Elections, where voters alongside electing their political representatives, will also be required to choose either to retain the current Constitution, or replace it with a constitution as amended through BBI Bill. The Punguza Mizigo referendum is however likely to be taken to a referendum next year if the constitution timelines are followed, and if that be the case, then the country shall have been subjected to two national referenda in a span of two years. To avoid the unnecessary spending on at least one referendum, especially on the one that is likely to fail, it is important for the good proposals by Punguza Mizigo Initiative to be adopted by the BBI team, so that the country votes for only one constitution change during the 2022 general election.

The second reason I support the wrong timing argument is through the lens of Senator Moses Wetangula. Over the weekend, Wetangula said that the problem with the Punguza Mizigo Bill is that the Bill is “too narrow to justify a referendum on its own”, and that’s true. In as much as the Aukot’s Bill seeks to address problems of over representation, Kenyans have also asked questions such as whether it is better for the Cabinet Secretaries to come from Parliament as was the case before, whether we need a Prime Minister, and how to deal with the question of exclusion once and for all. These are the questions that the BBI teams seek to address and if the solutions suggested by the BBI will be as ingenious as the Punguza Mizigo Bill, I do not see why the two constitutional amendment initiatives can’t be merged with only the best from both worlds picked and taken to one referendum.

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As you can realise, the top 2 reasons why the Punguza Mizigo bill will go nowhere has nothing to do with inadequacies of the Punguza Mizigo bill itself, but rather on who is presenting the bill, and when he is presenting it. The when is actually not a problem per se only that the team with important political clout is also getting ready to present a constitutional amendment bill likely to be taken for a referendum during the 2022 general elections.

Odipo Riaga
Managing Editor at KachTech Media
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