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Controversy Continues to Rage Over New Kenyan Constitution - 2004-03-22

Kenya's long-awaited new constitution is to be delivered Tuesday, on the eve of a conference designed to attract foreign investment to the country.

On the eve of the presentation of Kenya's draft constitution to the attorney general, controversy continues to rage over the contents of the document and the process for approving it.

Most members of parliament, human rights organizations, and others say parliament has no choice but to approve the so-called Zero Draft, a document prepared by a constitutional conference that lasted for more than a year.

They say what has come out of the conference, while not perfect, reflects the wishes and will of the Kenyan people.

Okoth Ogendo, rapporteur of the Review Commission for the new constitution, said parliament has the power only to amend the constitution as situations arise. "As the constitution is operationalized, that is when you discover whether or not there were indeed problems with the constitution, and if you do discover that there are problems, then parliament uses its powers under the constitution to amend that constitution to correct those problems. I've never seen a situation where parliament wants to make corrections in advance," he said.

Meanwhile, Constitutional Affairs Minister Kiraitu Murungi and close associates of President Mwai Kibaki say the government is planning to present two bills giving parliament the power to change the draft constitution and put it to a vote in a national referendum.

The government is opposed to the adoption of the Zero Draft, which calls for many of the president's powers to be transferred to a new position of prime minister.

The ruling party ran on a reform platform, and a promise to re-write the constitution and limit the powers of the presidency. But last week, the government walked out of the constitutional conference because delegates rejected a draft that would have maintained a strong presidency.

The head of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission, Yash Pal Ghai, is scheduled to hand the draft constitution to Attorney General Amos Wako. After several weeks, parliament is expected to vote on the legislation that would give it the power to change the constitution before it is ratified.

The dispute over the constitution comes as a three-day conference is set to begin Wednesday where Kenya will promote itself to foreign investors. More than 400 delegates from Europe and Asia are expected to attend.