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Government walks out of constitutional review process

Kenya's constitutional review process hit a deadlock this week following the decision by the government of President Mwai Kibaki to pull out of a conference set up to draft a new constitution.

Vice-President Moody Awori told reporters on Tuesday that the government had abandoned the talks, convened at Bomas of Kenya in the capital, Nairobi, because delegates had adopted a draft proposing to trim the president's powers, instead of a consensus draft backed by cabinet ministers.

The government walkout has drawn criticism from a section of the public and the opposition, which said it had abdicated its responsibility of delivering an acceptable constitution to Kenyans.

"The government was not supposed to be happy with the constitution. The process of Bomas was meant to serve the people of Kenya. All this uncertainty created by the government is very irresponsible," William Ruto, a member of parliament for the opposition Kenya Africa National Union (KANU), told IRIN.

The ruling National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) was elected in December 2002, after promising to deliver, among other things, a "people-driven" constitution within its first 100 days in power. But the process has been complicated by infighting within the coalition over contentious provisions in the draft on the distribution of executive power.

A member of the coalition, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), whose position was supported by a majority of the over 600 Bomas delegates, proposed the reduction of presidential powers. It suggested such powers be distributed to the office of a prime minister, parliament, and regional and grass-roots institutions.

Other coalition members, however, mainly from Kibaki's National Alliance of Kenya (NAK) favour a presidential system, in which the president retains most of his powers as head of state, head of government and commander of the armed forces. NAK said the creation of a prime minister's position could create two competing centres of power.

Kenya's constitutional review process has had several false starts since the introduction of the country's multiparty political system in 1992. Earlier attempts to reform the constitution included minimal changes proposed by an inter-parliamentary parties group, which was abandoned by the former government in 1997.

Phillip Kichana, the executive director of the International Commission of Jurists, who criticised the government, told IRIN that Kenya's constitutional reform should have been the priority issue for Kibaki's government, since it was the means by which the country would have achieved desired institutional reforms.

"I think we still have the same problems. By not taking up the constitution as the first priority, Narc has missed the boat. Fighting corruption needs a framework. The constitution provides that framework," he told IRIN. Any reforms arrived at outside an appropriate framework, he said, be they legal or economic, would not produce the profound effects needed for improving governance, he added. "We need to raise the standards of governance, but this is not seen to be happening," Kichana said.

The LDP is supported by KANU, which has thrown its weight behind the draft adopted on Monday. "We have written a constitution and we are not going to allow anybody to interfere with the document," Ruto said. "There is a law which should guide the next steps. The law is very clear on the process of Bomas. I think a responsible government would want to follow the law without unnecessary quarrelling, and I am confident that we will have a constitution by June."

The draft is expected to be passed by the constitutional conference in a final plenary session on Friday, after which it will be presented to the attorney-general, who within seven days is to send it to parliament for approval.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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