How new Covid-19 rules will affect BBI process

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By Mourice Seretta

While issuing the new Covid-19 containment measures on Friday, President Uhuru Kenyatta banned all forms of political gatherings for a period of 30 days commencing 12th March 2021.

He further directed that to secure the implementation of the Order on political gatherings, public ceremonies, the National Government Administration Officers (NGAO) jointly with the National Police Service and County Governments Enforcements Officers to strictly enforce this Public Order regardless of the social and political status of the conveners of the political gatherings.

The Head of State further directed that attendees of celebration of Weddings and other traditional unions and rites will be capped at 100 persons adding that in line with the guidelines issued by the Inter-Faith Council, only a maximum of one-third of the capacity of places of worship will be allowed at each worship ceremony.

“The Ministry of Health, working closely with the National Government Administration Officers (NGAO), are directed to enhance and strictly enforce border health security, with a greater emphasis on informal entry points; as the country remains at high risk of importation of new variants of COVID-19,” President Kenyatta said.

Many politicians including President Uhuru Kenyatta and his handshake partner Raila Odinga have been using political gatherings to drum up support for BBI while Deputy President William Ruto and his troops who have been having reservation with BBI have been using churches and funerals to campaign against BBI.

The above directives will automatically put the popularization of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) drive into jeopardy owing to the fact that many politicians have been using such platforms to drum up support or campaign against BBI that birthed the Constitutional of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020 which is now with the joint National Assembly and Senate Justice and Legal Affairs Committees (JLA Committees) which are gathering views from Kenyans as part of the public participation exercise.

Away from that, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) Party also suspended all its activities especially grassroots activities until and when its Party Leader Raila Odinga is discharged from office.

Odinga is in hospital after testing positive for Covid-19.

He is one of the proponents of the BBI process together with President Uhuru Kenyatta and his party’s suspension of grassroots activities alone means popularization of BBI was halted.

It will be interesting to also note whether the joint JLA Committees will also continue holding public participation exercises owing to the fact that that will amount to a public gathering or the exercise will be given preferential treatment.

The Joint JLA Committees had only began gathering views of Kenyans and had few remaining days to conclude the exercise, then retreat to write a report which they were to table concurrently in both houses.

Were the new measures issued by the President on Friday to contain the rising curve of BBI a blow altogether to stall BBI process which had strict timelines or was it a blessing in disguise to have the BBI sail through without major fight from the protagonists and antagonists of the process?

The BBI team estimated that the referendum will happen between April and June 2021.

However, the Constitution does not say how long Parliament should take, after passing the Bill, to pass it on to the President, or then how long the President shall take once that Bill is on his desk.

Legal experts have, however, in such cases, insisted that the process, if timeline is not stated, is guided by the principle of “reasonable timeline” in the supreme law.

The hurdle is how will the two JLA committees proceed if the presidential directive that no public gatherings will be allowed until after the lapse of the ban.

However, Parliament we understand constitutionally is very independent from the Executive and that will maybe allow for the two committees proceed with the gathering of views from the public hence allow for the smooth process of passing the Constitutional of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020 commonly referred to as BBI.

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