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Kenya stares at referendum as ‘Punguza mizigo’ gets 1 million signatures

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By JEREMIAH KIPLANG’AT
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Kenyans should brace themselves for an early referendum than expected.

This is after the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission (IEBC) approved the 1.2 million signatures submitted by a group seeking the plebiscite to reduce the president’s term of office and the number of MPs and the county assemblies.

The Punguza Mzigo Initiative by former presidential candidate Ekuru Aukot got a boost on Thursday after the electoral body said it had surpassed the required one million signatures for any attempt to change the supreme law through a popular quest.

In a statement, IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati said the commission was satisfied with the signatures submitted paving the way for the referendum quest to be placed before the 47 county assemblies.

“In compliance with Article 257 (4) of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, the Commission undertook a verification exercise to confirm whether the Punguza Mzigo Initiative was supported by at least one million registered voters.

The commission had since verified that the Initiative has been supported by 1,222,541 registered voters. This is therefore to notify the public and all stakeholders that the initiative has met the requisite threshold as required by the said Article 257(4) of the Constitution of Kenya 2010,” Mr Chebukati said.

As per the Constitution, once the signatures for the popular initiative have been ascertained the referendum’s journey shifts to the 47 assemblies where more than half must agree with it for it to move to the next step.

After ascertaining the signatures that were submitted on February 28, 2019, Mr Chebukati said the draft amendment bill submitted by Mr Aukot’s team will immediately be sent to the assemblies, through their speakers, who will then consider it within three months and forward their decisions to the National Assembly and the Senate.

“The speakers of the respective county assemblies will submit the decisions of their respective assemblies to the Speakers of the National Assembly and the Senate pursuant to Article 257 (6) of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010,” the IEBC boss added. 

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The Initiative proposes a seven-year one-term president, reduce the number of MPs and Senators from the current 416 to 147. It also wants the scrapping of nominated positions in the Senate and the county assemblies. Increase county allocations from 15 percent to 35 percent of the annual audited revenues.

For the draft Bill to be passed by either House of Parliament, it must be voted for by a simple majority of the members. If approved by both houses, it will be sent to the President for assent.  If the proposed changes require a referendum the President will ask the IEBC to call one within 90 days before assent if approved by the people. 

Mr Aukot’s bill will require a referendum as it touches on the president’s term and Parliament’s functions.

This is the first popular initiative towards constitutional change to pass the first hurdle after a similar attempt by the opposition flopped in 2016. Then, the IEBC said the signatures submitted did not hit the required one million.

Kenyans are also waiting to know the recommendations of the Building Bridges Initiative, a group formed by President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga to look into the shortcomings in the supreme law.

Recently, the group dismissed reports it had already arrived at some key recommendations, some similar to those contained in Aukot’s initiative like the reduction of the president’s term. 

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US official coming to Kenya to discuss huge potential aid project

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KEVIN J.  KELLEY

By KEVIN J. KELLEY
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The head of a special US development programme is due in Kenya next week to hold initial talks on the country’s potential eligibility for project funding that could total billions of shillings.

Sean Cairncross, CEO of the Millennium Development Corporation (MCC), said in a press briefing on Thursday that Kenya is making “excellent progress” toward meeting criteria for inclusion in the programme.

Kenya has failed the MCC’s eligibility tests for more than a decade, largely because of rampant corruption.

But the US government-sponsored MCC decided last month to qualify Kenya for a “threshold programme” that will likely carry funding of between $20 million and $30 million.

The money to be given to Kenya through that programme would be used to promote additional gains in the country’s efforts to limit graft.

Successfully completing this initial step could result in Kenya being chosen for a “compact” with MCC. Such an arrangement, usually focused on infrastructure development, involves an MCC grant averaging about $350 million, Mr Cairncross said.

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Established in 2004 during George W Bush’s presidency, the Millennium Challenge Corporation conditions its assistance on countries’ performance in “ruling justly”, following free-market economic policies, and investing in health, education and environmental initiatives.

Since its inception, MCC has awarded a total of more than $8 billion to 25 developing countries, including 13 on the African continent.

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Kenya must make additional progress in controlling corruption before it can be deemed eligible for an MCC compact, Mr Cairncross noted. The country’s standing in that regard is determined by assessments on the part of the World Bank and other “third-party data sources,” the MCC director said.

Corruption does not have to be eradicated in order for Kenya to qualify for an MCC compact, Mr Cairncross told reporters. Eligibility is assessed on the basis of a “trend toward dealing with that corruption and a willingness to engage government resources and political will to take those issues on,” he said.

This is not the first threshold programme for which Kenya has been chosen.

It entered into an initiative of that type in 2007 that was aimed at reforming the country’s public procurement systems, improving health service and delivery, and enhancing the monitoring capacity of government and civil-society organisations.

Despite some progress on each of those fronts, Kenya was still falling short of MCC eligibility standards when the first threshold programme concluded in 2010.

“Kenya is an important partner in East Africa,” the MCC said in December in announcing the country’s approval for a second threshold programme.

That MCC move likely reflects Washington’s aim of countering the influence China has gained in Kenya through its large-scale infrastructure investments in recent years.

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Form One admission extended to January 24

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OUMA WANZALA

By OUMA WANZALA
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The Ministry of Education has extended admission of Form One students to January 24.

Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang in a circular to regional and county directors of Education dated January 17, said the exercise has been extended to ensure that no learner is locked out of secondary school.

The exercise was to end on January 17 and the extension is a relief to parents, who were struggling to raise fees.

“Schools should use the extension to trace their learners who have not reported and at the same time capture all reported learners in NEMIS,” said Dr Kipsang.

He also directed primary school head teachers to use their 2019 candidates’ list to ensure that they have been placed in secondary schools.

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Dr Kipsang directed the head teachers to report any child, who is out of school for any reason to respective Education officials.

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The government introduced 100 percent transition to secondary school three years ago.

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Police seize illegal gambling machines in Runda

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SARAH NANJALA

By SARAH NANJALA
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More than 1,200 gambling machines were Friday seized by detectives at a private residence in Nairobi’s Runda estate.

Confirming the incident, Gigiri Sub-County Commanding Police Officer Richard Muguai said officers received a tip-off from members of the public.

“A tip to the police station on Thursday led us to begin our investigations and send officers to check the house.

“At the house we found a green tent outside that was well covered and after opening we found more than 1,200 slot coin machines,” he said.

Mr Muguai further said that the house was unoccupied, save for a gardener at the compound who opened the premises for the police.

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“There is no one currently at the house and we are doing investigations to find the owners and tenants of the house. The gardener could not tell us much about who lived there and only told us that the machines were brought to the house in 2018,” he added.

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Preliminary investigation according to the police boss show that the slot machines were brought to the house by three foreigners. The foreigners were of Chinese, Tanzanian and Zambian nationalities.

The police boss said no arrests have been made yet.

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