Monday, April 26, 2010

Church fails to cedes ground in draft talks

Church leaders upped the stakes in talks over contentious clauses by marking out a battle-line and throwing the gauntlet at the feet of the two principals.

Representatives of Kenya’s mainstream churches gave President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga their roadmap to resolving the impasse. Its main pillar is consensus in Parliament, fashioned

along the lines of the 2008 power sharing deal. The meeting at Harambee House also saw the Church rail at top State officials over their continued campaign for the Proposed Constitution before the conclusion of negotiations to broker an agreement on clauses the clerics want amended or struck out.

"For the avoidance of doubt, the Church remains focused on a mobilisation for the rejection of the Proposed Constitution unless there is concrete demonstration that the Government takes these talks seriously,’’ said Church leaders in a statement signed by 32 denominations, umbrella organisations, as well as fellowships and evangelical teams.

They included the National Council of Churches of Kenya, the Catholic, Redeemed Gospel and Methodist churches, Christ Is The Answer Ministries, African Inland Church, Kenya Assemblies of God and Evangelical Alliance of Kenya.

They added: "The statements in the media attributed to the Government over the weekend are offensive to the Church and do not demonstrate good faith."

Sources familiar with the first round of talks between the State officials pushing for a ‘Yes’ vote and the Church teams that vows it will vote ‘No’ if it is not listened to, said the gap between the two could have widened as the talks inched towards a deadlock.

On Monday, the talks ended with the Church coming up with fresh demands Kibaki and Raila to take control of the consensus process.

"They demanded that the document should be returned to Parliament after consensus for the Constitution of Kenya Review Act to be changed through a simple majority for amendments to be possible," said a source at the meeting. They added lines to their earlier memo to the Government demanding for the amendment of the Act with insertion of new clauses that would allow the President and PM to lead consensus-making processes within 30 days.

Thereafter, they want the Attorney General to table the product of consensus, way before the referendum, in Parliament within seven days after the President and PM conclude their bid for agreement on issues that threaten to frustrate attainment of a new constitution.

Thirdly, the Church wants Parliament to approve the consensus clauses as brokered by the President and MPs without amendment as happened in the extra-ordinary session of Parliament in 2008 when the National Accord and Reconciliation was entrenched into the Constitution. In case of voting in the House, the Church wants the two-thirds majority rule waived and simple majority let to determine changes. This would improve chances for many amendments rejected by the National Assembly.

Sources told The Standard Church leaders tabled several demands that took the Government side by surprise prompting the meeting to end prematurely. "The two sides formed a technical committee that will peruse the proposals tabled by the Church and give a report at another meeting to be held tomorrow (today) at Harambee House," said the source.

State position

The technical committee comprises Mutakha Kangu and Miguna Miguna (ODM), Kivutha Kibwana and Justin Muturi (PNU) and Kinyanjui Kamau and Dr Jean Kagia (Church) together with two other representatives to be nominated by the churches. Their task will be to draw the terms of reference for the State-Church negotiating committee, even as May 6, when the AG is scheduled to publish the Draft draws near. The Government side was reported to have just listened to the Church’s team. It includes Cabinet ministers Mutula Kilonzo (Justice), James Orengo (Lands), Sally Kosgei (Agriculture), Mohammed Elmi (Northern Kenya) and Beth Mugo (Public Health). Their indifference appeared to have been reinforced by the official State position time is running out and the battle should be fought at referendum.

Representing the church groups were Bishops Philip Sulumeti and Anthony Muheria (Kenya Episcopal Conference), Bishop Jackson Kosgei (Worldwide Gospel Church), Bishop Stephen Kanyaru (Methodist), Bishop Gerry Kibarabara (Gospel Assemblies of Kenya), and Dr Will Mutiso (Evangelical Alliance of Kenya).

On Saturday, Raila appeared to dismiss the consensus efforts, saying: "If there is a consensus, then there is no need to go to the referendum because people go to a referendum to weigh which opinion is stronger."

Raila, whom the Church expects to drive the consensus, said it would be hard to reach the deal they were calling for because Parliament failed in the last attempt.

The technical committee meeting this morning is expected to come up with a report that will be discussed tomorrow by the plenary. It is also expected to define the mandate of the negotiating team.

Interestingly, the religious leaders are suggesting that this new document be tabled in the House for debate and approval by Parliament either with or without amendments for resubmission to AG for publication.

They further suggest the MPs can also propose amendments to the consensus and submit the same to the President and PM within14 days. The roadmap demands that the AG tables the document before the House within seven days after the amendments have been done. Clauses arrived at by consensus and approved by Parliament, they demanded, supersede those contained in Draft Constitution.

The Church is opposed to the clauses on the Kadhis’ Courts and wants them removed from the Proposed Constitution. They also want a clear separation of State and Religion. They also demanded for the protection of the right to life of all persons, whether born or unborn, to be guaranteed. They requested that national interests, security, national integration, national cohesion and justice guide consensus building process.

Technical team

They sent copies of their demands to the two principals recommending the technical committee be allowed to provide the legal framework for consensus that will have been developed and any other matters incidental to what they had proposed.

"We assure all Kenyans the Christian Church remains firm on rejecting the draft at the referendum if the cardinal issues raised are not resolved," they declared. At the same time five women organisations have written to Mutula demanding to be included in the talks together with the churches. The organisations include the National Commissions on Gender and Development, Leagues of Women Voters, Maendeleo ya Wanawake, Caucus for Women Leadership and NCCK.

Also seeking to be included in the talks are the Kenya and the Eastern, Central and Southern Africa Obstetrical and Gynecological, Societies and the National Nurses Association of Kenya. The three organisations argue since abortion featured as one of the contentious issues they should be allowed to contribute.

Dr Jaldesa Guyo, Professor Joseph Karanja and Mr Jeremiah Maina signed the letter for the three groups.

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