Knut changes constitution to block its officials from joining politics

Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut)’s top decision-making organ has endorsed proposed changes to its constitution, opening a new chapter in its leadership.

In changes approved by the National Advisory Council at a meeting in Nairobi yesterday, elected officials will retire at 65, while officials wishing to contest elective political positions will not be allowed back into the union as Knut seeks to delink itself from partisan politics.

If approved by National Delegates’ Conference (NDC), the move will deal a major blow to some members who have expressed interest in various political positions in next year’s general election.

Previously, Knut officials took leave to contest elective national positions with those losing embraced back into the union.

Yesterday’s meeting brought together the union’s 440 officials drawn from its 110 branches.

The Advisory Council consists of members of the National Executive Council (NEC), the chairman, executive secretary, treasurer, woman representatives, and persons with disabilities where necessary from each of the branches.

Though the NDC has a final say in any constitutional changes, in the absence of the top organ, Secretary-General Collins Oyuu said the constitution allows the Advisory Council to ratify changes.

Also passed was the proposal to clip powers of the SG, as the official will no longer double up as the Chief Executive Officer.

However, the point of departure and agreement among members is the proposal to move the retirement age of elected officials to 65 years.

“Every national official and full time elected officials of the union shall vacate office at the expiry of five years but shall be eligible for re-election up to 65 years,” said Oyuu.

He said strict adherence to the age limit is unfair to holders of elective positions, and has been a major cause of litigation during elections.

“Members and officials have been fighting among themselves because of the grey areas that were not addressed in the Knut constitution about the age of retirement,” said Oyuu.

He said while the constitution sets retirement age at 60, it also talks of a five-year term for elected officials.

“And so whatever comes first is what takes precedence” said Oyuu.

In their resolution, the Advisory Council said the age limit be raised to 65 to end litigation and chaos during elections.

The net effect of this is that elected officials whose terms overlap the set age limit will complete their tenures.

Oyuu also said the union constitution revised in December 2015, gave the office of the SG additional powers of the CEO.

He said the title of a CEO has been used to intimidate union members besides making erratic decision without consultations.

The current constitution, under Article Six, spells out designations and duties of elected officials and says the secretary general shall also be the CEO of the union.

Oyuu said proposed changes seek to strengthen the union structures by making sure that organs such as the NEC get the powers to make major decisions.

According to Knut’s constitution, NEC is empowered to act as the supreme authority and to transact the business of the union between the Annual Delegates Conference by ensuring that decisions and policies of the ADC are fully executed.

The union also resolved to seal loopholes that allowed ex-SG Wilson Sossion to continue serving even after his nomination to Parliament.

Knut has now introduced a new law to bar any member of the executive or holders of a national office from holding a political office.

“We want to include that any member or official of the union elected, nominated or appointed to a political party position, or to Parliament, should give way for the rest to lead,” reads the proposed law.

The Advisory Council argues that membership is comprised of teachers with different political persuasions, whose personal interest must be guarded without causing unnecessary conflicts between them and the leadership.

The delegates pointed out that just like other constitutions, which are amended in line with changing times, some sections in the current Knut constitution are obsolete and need a review. Officials further pointed out that some words and terms in the current constitution are obsolete and must be aligned.

“For instance, on branches, the constitution makes reference to districts, which are no longer existent.

“The union shall consist of branches organised as far as possible, on a districts basis whose membership shall be approved by the NEC on application,” it reads.

It further states that each branch shall have at least 1,000 members.

The revised recognition agreement signed in August reduced Knut branches to 47 up from 110.

But according to the constitution, each branch is expected to have three top officers – chairman, executive secretary, and treasurer – each with an assistant. Together with a woman representative, these officials form the branch steering committee.

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