MUHURI moved to court to challenge the BBI signature verification process.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, through BBI, want to change the constitution. They had to prove at least one million registered voters in Kenya concurred.
BBI presented to IEBC signatures, purportedly from Kenyans. BBI wanted the electoral body to certify that the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020 paving way for the referendum. IEBC certified the Bill.
MUHURI sought conservatory orders: stopping IEBC from verifying BBI signatures and certifying the Bill. In the alternative, MUHURI wanted IEBC restrained from certifying the Bill until there is a comprehensive legal framework, including enabling regulations, to guide signature verification.
But IEBC has since verified the signatures. It is in the process of forwarding the Bill to county assemblies. The conservatory orders sought by MUHURI are now nugatory.
Main petition still active
But the main petition is on. It reveals Kenya lacks a comprehensive legal framework, including enabling regulations, to guide the signature verification process that results in a referendum.
And Mombasa resident judge, Erick Ogolla, will on February 2 rule whether he’ll hear the petition or move it to Nairobi before a five-bench judge.
BBI, an interested party, and IEBC, a respondent, want the case heard in Nairobi. They claim issues MUHURI case raises are like those in the five suits before the Nairobi bench.
The five cases in Nairobi are challenging the constitutionality of the BBI. Its process is sponsored by the state, not through a popular initiative, as required by law.
The petitions query if BBI is the properly mandated body to draft the referendum bill in the absence of the Attorney General (AG) and Kenya Law Reforms Commission (KLRC).
They also question BBI’s mandate in creating new constituencies and the right for the diaspora people to participate in a referendum.
Why MUHURI’s petition is different
But are Nairobi cases like MUHURI’s? No. These are the legal grounds raised in MUHURI petition that makes it distinct:
- To date, there lacks a regulatory and guiding law on a popular initiative – and especially about processes necessary under Article 257(4) and (5) on referendum and submission of proposed Bill to county assemblies. Without a statutory framework, IEBC lacks the requisite power to make regulations and guidelines as it has purported to do to undertake its mandate under Article 257(4) and (5) of the constitution on the verification processes.
- There are many regulatory gaps of indispensable legal elements necessary to guide the processes required under Article 257(4) and (5) of the Constitution. The following is a non-exhaustive list:
- Can the signatures by registered voters in support of the Bill be provided (in hand-written format) on hard copies of the prescribed form or are signatures/names collected in an electronic platform or printed acceptable;
- Must signatures or forms containing signatures of supporters of a Bill be provided to IEBC in hard copies or electronic format or both as currently demanded by the Commission;
- Where the format of signatures are provided in both hard and electronic formats, which formats are used for verification – or in case of a dispute between the hard and electronic record, what format is authoritative;
- Is electronic verification of the signatures acceptable;
- What does verification mean – is it a physical comparison between the signatures provided by the promoters of a popular initiative with what is held by the IEBC;
- If the answer to the preceding question is in the affirmative, what happens when the IEBC – as already admitted – does not maintain a repository of signatures of registered voters;
- If verification involves a comparison of the signature in the forms submitted by the promoters of the Bill and those in IEBC repository, what qualification is needed for the persons entrusted by IEBC to conduct the verification;
- What legally qualifies as a “signature” for purposes of Article 257(4) and (5) of the Constitution?
- Would the verification required under Article 257(4) and (5) of the Constitution be met by just comparing the names of those contained in the forms purported to be signed by persons supporting the Bill and the names in IEBC voters register? Does it require verification of other biographic and biometric details including, for example, verification of identity or passport numbers;
- What happens where there is some discrepancy (however minimal) in details of names of a voter in the forms submitted in support of the Bill and what is held by IEBC, including, for example, the ordering of the names of a voter?
- What is the role of observers – and under what criteria are they to be accredited. Who has the right (if at all) to have his/her observers present during the verification process. Should the promoters of the popular initiative be allowed to appoint agents to monitor and oversee the verification exercise;
- Can an observer or agent challenge the administrative procedures or rules adopted by the IEBC during the verification exercise – if so, how is the dispute to be resolved and or who has the authority to participate in the resolution of the dispute;
- Should the IEBC notify the members of the public of the names and particulars of individuals purported to have signed in support of the Bill? What medium/forum should IEBC use for such notification and for how long? For example, is it legally sufficient that the only notification/publication made by IEBC is through its website;
- Should there be a statutory time limit within which the IEBC must complete the verification processes;
- Should there be a provision in the law expressly providing IEBC with powers to make Regulations to govern the process of verification required under Article 257(4) and (5) of the Constitution?
The above questions indicate the opaqueness surrounded the purported verification exercise done by IEBC in the absence of a statutory and regulatory framework.
Furthermore, there is currently no law that provides an interpretation of what the terms “signed” and “signature” mean.
Without a repository of specimen signatures of registered voters, which IEBC admitted to lack—and in the absence of any law that defines the term “signature”, which is more encompassing than the ordinary usage of the term—IEBC can’t undertake the verification required by the constitution.