Sunday, July 25, 2010

Civil servants shouldn’t campaign

Sunday Nation 25 July 2010

With only 10 days left to the referendum over the Proposed Constitution of Kenya, campaigns have gone a notch higher, and both camps are presumably unleashing their secret weapons.

A dispassionate examination of the Proposed Constitution clearly demonstrates that despite its bulk and lots of legal theory, it is a vast improvement on the current constitution.

Indeed, listening to the proponents of the ‘No’ camp, it is very difficult to find irrefutable proof of the “badness” of the draft.

All the objections over the land chapter, Kadhi’s courts, abortion, homosexuality and even the relevance of international treaties duly ratified by the government can be easily dismissed by reverting to the Proposed Constitution itself.

Despite the obvious advantages enjoyed by the ‘Yes’ camp, which also brings together most of the senior politicians in government, strange tactics have been employed to ensure a ‘Yes’ victory.

The aim may be to ensure a landslide victory for the Proposed Constitution, but the strategy will definitely backfire in future.

The strategy, which sets a very dangerous precedent, is the use of permanent secretaries and other senior civil servants in campaigning for the document.

This may look like a very bright idea at this time in our history, when the government feels that all resources must be deployed to ensure that this great opportunity is not wasted.

However, viewed as a precedent, nothing will stop a future administration from declaring another political contest a “government project” and ordering all civil servants to campaign for it!

In 2005, the government “proper” decided to push for the enactment of the so-called “Wako Draft” after the collapse of the Bomas process.

Critics pointed out then that the draft could not be characterised as a “government project”, and use of government resources in campaigns were denounced as illegal attempts to force a flawed draft down the throats of Kenyans.

Because the opponents of the Wako Draft were more adept at galvanising the national mood against it, Kenyans voted against it by a modest margin of 55 per cent to 45 per cent.

The organisational skills of the opponents were demonstrated later with the formation of the Orange Democratic Movement, which managed to secure a majority in Parliament.

Today, many of the Orange campaigners are on the ‘Yes’ side, and it appears hugely hypocritical for them to accept that this time the Proposed Constitution is a government project and it is alright for civil servants to be employed in campaigns all over the Republic.

The ‘No’ side is well within its rights to complain that the government is denying them a fair playing ground.

Despite Agenda Four of the National Accord identifying a new constitution as one of the key reforms needed to save Kenya from itself, it did not specify that any draft would be considered a government project.

Coercing civil servants to support the Proposed Constitution and even requiring them to campaign for it probably constitutes an abuse of the rights of those opposed to it.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine

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