Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Good Draft Constitution but Not Perfect! Part 3 of 3

This is the Last and Thrid part of my comments to the Constitutional Committee of Experts on the Harmonized Draft Constitution. See Part 1 and 2 below.

Representation in a Devolved System
The harmonized draft constitution proposes a three tier devolution system. I have no quarrels with that. Devolution is viewed in many countries as a way to dampen regional, racial, ethnic, or religious cleavages, particularly in multiethnic societies. These should be desirable results in Kenya. That being so the costs of devolution should not be viewed as unnecessary burden to the economy.

The establishment of a bi-camel legislature is good for ensuring democratic balance between majority rule and minority rights. The lower house safeguarding majority rule principle and the Senate protecting minority rights and regional interests. To achieve these results representation in both houses must, however, comply with some basic standards of boundary delimitation: impartiality of boundary authority, equality of voting strength, representativeness in drawing constituencies, non-discrimination by avoiding boundary manipulation, and transparency. While Article 113 of the draft provides for the standards, delimitations of regions and counties in First Schedule and Article 5 (2) seem arbitrary especially when representation in the Senate and Regional Assemblies are based on the number of regions and counties. The principle of equality may not have been complied with especially as regarding the county level. The populations of some of the counties may be too large such that equality of voting strength is not respected.

Similarly, equality principle in representation in the National Assembly should be adhered to in order to make majority rule meaningful. There are perceptions that the way current constituencies are drawn does not comply with the principle of equal representation. The populations of constituencies are not equally divided so as to provide voters with equality of voting strength. In my opinion the representation in both houses should be seen to be fair so as to make devolution meaningful. The people should feel adequately represented at all level of devolution and not circumvented.

Finally, thorough proofreading should be done to the final draft so as to avoid some obvious errors such as in Article 125 (3). The reference to Article 141 (2) (a) does not correspond with the contents of this Article.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A Good Draft Constitution but Not Perfect! Part 2 of 3

This is the second part of my comments to the Constitutional Committee of Experts on the Harmonized Draft Constitution. See Part 1 below this one.

The Executive Powers
In the harmonized draft you propose a hybrid system with an elected president who wields state constitutional powers and a prime minister from the party with majority in parliament on whom executive powers reside. In your effort to clearly define the powers of the president and prime minister so as to avoid conflict you ultimately created a parliamentary system rather than a hybrid system. In the draft, the president has no executive powers at all. He or she is for all practical purposes a ceremonial figure. He or she has little if any influence on policy and how it is implemented. The legislative powers granted to him or her cannot be exercised without the connivance of the prime minister who heads the cabinet that must approve a legislative proposal by the president. The power of the president to assent bills also seems ceremonial as the veto powers are curtailed by allowing a lower member vote threshold in parliament. A president who is elected by the people and in whom executive powers do not reside should have veto powers which are to be exercised to influence policy and protect the interest of the people where these are disregarded by the parliament and the cabinet. In fact, I would propose providing for president to be able to present a bill directly to parliament without the approval of cabinet and where the parliament and president disagree on a law the president should refer the bill to a referendum.

In my opinion, a hybrid system makes sense where the president and the prime minister share real executive powers. The current Grand Coalition Government is a real hybrid system. In order to avoid conflict, the two principals can only act through consultation and cooperation. The existence of multiple powers should not necessarily imply conflict. The best solution in a hybrid or mixed system is not to strengthen one to the detriment of the other. Whether this is the system of government Kenyans want I cannot say. In the previous constitutional drafts, that guided you in your work on the new draft, Kenyans had not contemplated a Grand Coalition Government. Their experience with the current Grand Coalition Government may not be positive so as to persuade them to accept a hybrid system the way it is formulated in the harmonized draft.

The objective of a government is to ensure democratic rule and economic development for its people. The preference for a hybrid system stems from the fear that new democracies are likely to revert to authoritarianism. The need to redistribute executive power between the president and the prime minister therefore becomes necessary. The fear is, however, not supported by evidence. To the contrary, evidence points to so few new democracies that have actually reverted to authoritarianism.

On economic reform performance, the hybrid government seems to do well only where the president and the prime minister share real power. This is because both strong presidents and strong prime ministers exert a positive effect on the implementation of economic reforms. The ideal strategy for hybrid constitution is not the strengthening of one to the detriment of the other. Rather, the implementation of reforms will be maximized at a point in which both the president and the government have significant powers to intervene in the policy process.

Whether the country adopts a parliamentary or presidential system is inconsequential to the level of democratic rule and democratic development that obtains in a country. Both systems were adequately represented among authoritarian governments of Africa and elsewhere. Conversely, the two systems are aptly represented in successful democracies and developed economies. Each system has its own advantages and disadvantages and none fairs better than the other. The strength of one over the other really depends on one’s preference.

Efficiency, rule of law, accountability and so on are inherent in both systems. The choice for one over the other is dictated by other factors. Peculiarity of a country; culture, past experience, level of development and geographical region seem to influence the choice. Kenyans have experienced the presidential system for the last 46 years. Culturally, the presidential system is more familiar to them than the parliamentary system. Although Kenyans have had bad experiences of dictatorship under the presidential system in the past, this did not dampen their preference for an elected president going by their documented views before Bomas. As has been eloquently put by others, Kenyans want to elect their own CEO whom they can hold accountable rather than experiment with unpredictable parliamentarians and political parties. Kenyans do not trust political parties and MPs who change positions on political expediency. At the same time, Kenyans reject an imperial president who “Lords” over them.

In this regard, you were right to propose a hybrid system of government but wrong to transfer all the executive powers to a prime minister and parliament. In the past, the main problem was lack of cooperation avenues among institutions in the presidential system. The system of government Kenyans want falls in between the presidential and parliamentary systems. The executive powers should be shared between the president and the parliament in order to encourage cooperation between them. A strong president and a strong prime minister (close to the French system) seem to be the preferred solution as the pure presidential system is in the past and the future can only be left to posterity. The making of constitution is different today from the making of the constitution in 2003. Let us find solutions to the current problems of governance. So the challenge is how to strike the right equilibrium.

Check out the Final Part 3 on the representation in a devolved system tomorrow.

Monday, January 04, 2010

A Good Draft Constitution but Not Perfect! Part 1of 3

I would like to commend the Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review for proposing a good draft Constitution for discussion. The draft is a good starting point but not perfect as no constitution is perfect. A constitution is a living document which tries to rectify the past wrongs while solving present problems and proposing a road map for the future. In this sense, a good constitution is both backward looking and forward looking. But importantly, a good constitution attempts to solve present problems without being a captive of the past and without imposing solutions to future generations. While we can try to mend the past we cannot predict the future. Posterity will have to solve their problems. But if we construct a good foundation for governance today, the future generation will be inspired by our foresight. So in my view a good constitution is one that offers solutions to our present problems inspired by past experiences and future expectations. Such a constitution cannot be perfect for all times.

I think that the Harmonized Draft Constitution aptly endeavors to find solutions to most of the pressing problems of our nation today. That said, however, there are areas that may need more attention. The draft has positively dealt with matters concerning human rights by targeting political, civil and socio-economic as well as cultural rights, environmental rights and utilization and development of natural resources. In this sense, it has reinforced the fact that human rights are indivisible. It has also appropriately addressed gender balance and disadvantaged persons’ rights in most aspects of life. The rights of minority groups are also in focus. Provisions on citizenship and dual citizenship are also welcome. Land rights, which have been a major cause of conflict, are adequately spelt out and are reinforced in the recently adopted National Land Policy. The provisions on political parties are commendable. The separation of offices of Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions and the creation of a new office of Public Defender is innovative. Of course, I am aware that individuals and groups directly affected by some of the rights and provisions will make their views known and where necessary suggest improvements. As such, I will not dwell on such shortcomings here.

My main concern in this commentary is on matters which are still regarded contentious and require input; executive powers and representation in a devolved system.

Check Part 2 tomorrow.