Opposition leader’s office on the cards

Written by on 7 December 2022

President William Ruto has given his seal of approval to a new Bill that seeks to insulate Opposition chief Raila Odinga from any civil or criminal proceedings while in office.

The proposed law, which Kenya Kwanza MPs have been asked to pass, will also give Raila powers to appoint his allies to independent and constitutional commissions and address Parliament and the nation periodically.

To be funded by taxpayers, the bill will give Raila, and future holders of the office, powers and discretion to solicit and mobilise for funding from donors as one way to supplement its budgetary allocation and to finance its activities.

Addressing Kenya Kwanza MPs at the Windsor Country Club on Monday night, Ruto urged them to speed up the passage of the Bill to create the office of the Official Opposition leader.

The Bill has already been published and will be tabled before the National Assembly once the House resume in February.

While addressing the MPs during a two-day symposium, Ruto said: “We need to accommodate the opposition; do not make things personal”.

This comes even as Raila is today expected to hold the first of a series of rallies he has planned to criticise the move by government to kick out four IEBC commissioners.

Leader of Majority in the National Assembly Kimani Ichung’wa said he is waiting for a communication from the Speaker of the National Assembly, Moses Wetangula, who will communicate the President’s message to the House.

“After the communication from the Speaker, the Bill will be subjected to scrutiny by members either to add or minus before they debate it,” said Ichung’wa.

Wetang’ula is likely to relay the communication tomorrow when Parliament convenes for a special sitting.

When contacted yesterday, the Leader of the Minority in the National Assembly, Opiyo Wandayi, said he was not aware of such a Bill.

“If at all it is there then it’s not an Azimio initiative,” he said.

The Bill, which seeks to amend the Constitution, is a parliamentary initiative although the President has asked his party allies to back it.

Assumption of office

It seeks to establish an office of the Official Opposition to the government. The leader of the opposition shall be the candidate nominated by a political party or coalition political party or coalition of political parties that secures the second greatest number of votes in any concluded presidential election.

For one to ascend to the proposed office, one’s political party or coalition has to receive at least 25 per cent of all the members of the National Assembly and secure the second largest number of votes in any concluded presidential election. He can also be the person who secures the second greatest number of votes in an election.

The proposed deputy leader of the opposition shall be the person who is nominated by the same parties or coalitions for that seat.

According to the proposed law, the term of office of the leader of the opposition and deputy shall run from the date of assumption of office of a new president and end when a new president assumes office.

It also states that the leader of the Opposition can be impeached for violating the Constitution or any other law or when there are serious reasons to believe the office holder has committed a crime under national or international law.

However, the opposition leader and the deputy will be protected from any form of criminal or civil proceedings during their tenure in office.

The functions of the opposition leader will include being a symbol of national unity, respecting, safeguarding and upholding the Constitution and safeguarding the sovereignty of the republic. Others are scrutinising, criticising and making suggestions for improvement of legislation, policy and financial proposals by the government.

Such an office holder will also survey, appraise and criticise government administration, examine public expenditure and public accounts and seek information on and clarification of government policies and directives.

Should the Bill be passed, the holder of the office will have power to appoint representatives to sit in various select committees and for recruitment into various constitutional and statutory commissions.

The leader will also have the privilege to address a special sitting of Parliament once every year and address either of the Houses at any other time.

He or she will also report — in an address to the nation — on all the measures taken and progress achieved in holding the government of the day to account.

Once every year, he or she will publish in the Kenya Gazette details of measures and progress made in holding the government to account.

Divisive elections 

He or she will also submit a report for debate to the National Assembly on the progress made in fulfilling the republic’s international obligations.

The holder of the office will identify and appoint such staff as shall be necessary for the execution of the said office and remuneration, benefits and allowances of such staff shall be drawn from the Exchequer subject to the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) guidelines.

One of the aims of the Bill is to amend the Constitution to address its implementation, specifically the urgent need to resolve divisive elections and strengthen government accountability in furthering democracy and promoting institutional faith in the electorate and the electoral process.

The proposals for reforms and endorsed hearings are informed by aspirations of all Kenyans for a government based and the essential values of human rights, equality, freedom, democracy, social justice, rule of law, transparency, accountability and the fulfillment of international obligations as espoused in the preamble of the Constitution.

The reforms originate from experience and Kenya’s history of divisive politics and elections with constant tension and uncertainty during electioneering periods every five years.

“Elections in Kenya have become an emotive affair closely contested every five years with the country divided into half with citizens’ split into voting for the winning and the second candidate,” reads the draft Bill in part.

It goes on to cite other jurisdictions in the Commonwealth that have adopted similar reforms. 

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