Is the proposed new constitution mathematically sound?


The Sunday Nation


18 September 2005


Section 116(2) of the proposed new constitution provides that the number of nominated members of parliament shall consist of:

“(a) A number of members equal to five per cent of the total membership of parliament who shall be persons with disabilities…of whom one third shall be women; (b) A number of members equal to five per cent of the total membership of parliament who shall…represent special interests…and; (c) Such number of members as may be required to ensure that not more than two-thirds of all members of parliament are of the same gender.”

These provisions sound straightforward but they are no easy to implement. Suppose there are 200 elected members of parliament. How many nominees would be appointed under section 116 (2)(a) and (b)? It is tempting to argue that five per cent of 200 is 10, therefore there should be 20 nominated MPs.

But let’s now check if the new constitution is obeyed by these figures. From the above calculation, the total number of members comes to 220 (200 elected plus 20 nominated); five per cent of 220 is 11. That is, in a house of 220 MPs, 22 should be nominated and 198 elected.  Therefore the earlier computation was wrong. Let’s try another approach:

The new constitution requires a total of ten per cent be nominated under sub-sections (a) and (b). Therefore, the 200 elected members should comprise 90 per cent of the house. If 200 MPs make this 90 per cent, what then should the total membership be? The answer is 200 divided by 90 per cent, which is equal to 222.2. That is, we need 22.2 nominees, (OK, 22!) – 11 under each category.

But then subsection 2(c) introduces a further complication: Its aim is to ensure that there is a gender “balance” in the house. Suppose that out of the 200 elected MPs, 180 are men and only 20 are women. How many women would need to be nominated to satisfy article 2(c)?

The 180 men will make up two-thirds of the house, therefore the total membership will be 180 multiplied by three halves. The answer is 270. Hence there should be a total of 90 women (270 - 180) in the house. But since there are already 20 elected female members, then only 70 new ones should be nominated.

And now here comes the snag: in order to obey subsections 2(a) and 2(b), a total of 30 MPs (ten per cent of total membership) must be appointed in addition to the 270. Out of the 30, five must be women because of the special requirement in article 2(a). If the remaining 25 are all men (a realistic expectation in Kenya), the gender distribution will be as follows:

205 men – 180 elected plus 25 nominated. 95 women – 20 elected and 75 nominated. The total number is therefore 300. One third of 300 is 100, that is, there should be 100 female MPs - not 95. Consequently, the gender balancing rule is broken.

How do we solve this hitch? Well, that is a story for another day. For now it appears that the proposed new constitution is mathematically tricky.

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