Entries from December 22nd, 2011

Harambees and Elections

Posted by on 22nd December 2011

Categories: Uncategorized

Talking about the “harambee ban” on political aspirants Isaack Hassan, the Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC), recently stated, “politicians and aspirants for political posts have always used fund-drives and harambees to entice voters and to influence their manner of voting.”

Have you ever wondered how much of a political aspirants campaign budget is allocated to fund raisers and harambees? And how this affects the county’s elections and their outcomes? Harambees to raise funds for personal and public projects such as school fees, rehabilitating hospitals or building schools are a common occurrence. And while harambees started out from a well-intentioned place for well-intentioned causes, over the years harambees and fund-raisers have morphed into a powerful political tool.

The influence that harambee contributions by political aspirants have on the outcome of elections cannot be underestimated. Though it doesn’t always work there is almost a tacit agreement that the more money a political aspirant gives to both personal and public harambee projects the more political influence they gain, and the more chance they have of influencing the vote. So though the act of contributing to harambees by political aspirants may not qualify as outright vote buying it definitely falls somewhere along vote buying continuum. The practice undermines the electoral process, and leads to the prioritisation the aspirants the wealth over their vision and leadership.

Citing Article 26 (1) of the Elections Act the Chairperson of the IEBC, Isaack Hassan, put those running for elected positions in the upcoming 2012 election on notice about their responsibility to stop the practice of using harambees and fund-raisers to amass political influence.

Article 26 of the Act prohibits political candidates from directly or indirectly participating in any manner in any public fund raising or harambee within the 8 months preceding a general election or during an election period. The section also states that any political aspirant doing so shall be disqualified from contesting in the election or during that election year or election period. Given the election date still stands at 14th August 2012 and barring any changes the 8-month “harambee ban” began on 14th December.

No doubt there will be enforcement issues however the Chairperson of the IEBC has indicated that video recording can be used as evidence to disqualify a candidate if they act in contravention on the law. The IEBC is also in the process of setting up an Electoral Code on Conduct and a committee to ensure it is enforced.

The “harambee ban” is definitely a welcome move in the electoral reform process but is it enough to stop the practice, your thoughts?

On the Electoral Opinion Bill

Posted by on 21st December 2011

Categories: Uncategorized

Is the Electoral Opinion Bill overkill or much needed? Though no one can argue about the need for polls to be conducted in a scientific and transparent manner, I’d be inclined to argue that bill is overkill. The bill sponsored by Ikolomani MP, Bonny Khalwale, creates a myriad of obligations for both pollsters and media groups that publish or broadcast the results of the electoral opinion polls.

o   It prohibits the publication of the results of electoral opinion polls 48 hours before the date of the election.

o   It obligates those who broadcast electoral opinion polls to provide information on who sponsored the poll, the name of the person/organisation that conducted the poll, the polling period, the methodology of the survey, the size of the population polled, the pool from which was the polled population was drawn, the education of level of those polled, and the margin of error in respect of the data.

o   The Bill creates additional obligations for those that publish electoral opinion polls requiring them to provide the above information, plus – the wording of the poll questions, sampling methods, dates and times of interviews, weighting factors, methods used to recalculate data to take in to account participants who were undecided or expressed no opinion etc.

o   The bill imposes a fine of up to 500,000 shillings or a prison sentence not exceeding one year for any contraventions of its provisions.

The bill applies to all electoral opinions polls conducted in an election period i.e. “any period of 12 immediately preceding an election.” This definition is less problematic than that definition given of an “electoral opinion poll” i.e. “a survey of the public opinion or a sample of the public opinion to assess the views of the electorate on various matters relating to an election, political candidates or political issues.” This definition is so broad that it is difficult to figure out what falls or what doesn’t fall under it. Do mini-surveys conducted at issue at the end of TV newscasts count, what about those mini-surveys conducted by newspapers on a political issues, or surveys on political blogs?

According to its memorandum of objects and reasons the Electoral Opinion Bill was “born out of a reality that the publication of results of electoral opinion polls influences Kenyans to vote one way or another,” and as a consequences “there is need for a law to ensure that such electoral opinion polls are conducted in a scientific and transparent manner and all the relevant information is disclosed to the public.”

What is your opinion on the Electoral Opinion Bill? Does the country need it? Do electoral opinion polls affect the way that you vote? Of all the factors that influence Kenyans electoral choices where do electoral opinion polls fall on scale?

Mzalendo Vox Pop: A doctor’s perspective on the strike / linda afya

Posted by on 14th December 2011

Categories: Vox Pop

Below is a guest post by Dr. Peter Mburu.   What are your thoughts?  Let us know via the comments or email your response to info-at-mzalendo.com blog

I just got home from a long day at a privately owned and run hospital in Nairobi where I am a doctor. I am sitting watching the news of the doctors’ strike for the umpteenth time, images of young people in white coats walking peacefully, displaying placards and chanting – they are my colleagues in the public sector. In the background, the voice of the reporter repeating how the doctors want a 300% pay rise over and over. That mesmerizing figure – 300%.

I try to imagine being an ordinary Kenyan, listening to this and wonder what I would think of the action by doctors to abandon their posts leaving desperately ill patients in hospital wards across the country just because they want to make more money. I am a little crestfallen but I remember that that is not all the striking doctors are asking for.

I think of the 13-point petition submitted to the Ministries of Medical Services and Finance, the offices of the President and Prime Minister and even Parliament. Only 2 points mention remuneration of healthcare workers (not just doctors but Pharmacists, Dentists and Clinical Officers are also included). No mention of the other 11 items on the petition submitted to the government as reason for this strike action seems to reach the ears and eyes of the watching public. I think of all the things I have been reading on social media. People, mostly young middle-class professionals, asking why doctors think they deserve all that money. The money thing again! How we are creating a culture of wage-beggars and unnecessary industrial actions. Don’t other professionals work just as hard, if not harder serving the public? And aren’t government employees generally poorly paid? What makes them so special?

What makes us special? Well, over generations, yes generations, healthcare workers have worked and continue to work in atrocious conditions without complaint and largely, without regard to our own safety. We have worked unacceptably long hours for years due to understaffing! We do not have a decent medical plan being exposed to all manner of risks. We have suffered through everything from poorly stocked drug stores, constantly broken down operating room and laboratory equipment, lack of basic amenities like gloves to poorly maintained hospitals and everything in between. It is demoralizing when you cannot offer the best available care to those who deserve it. It is worse when you cannot offer medical care to your own loved ones when they need it!

It’s outrageous when the public, majority of who cannot afford insurance or to go to private doctors or institutions like the one I work in, suffer needlessly due to cuts in healthcare funding each passing year. They don’t get the benefit of having complete work-ups and/or appropriate treatments. It’s unacceptable to send a patient’s relative outside the hospital to buy basic medications that should be available in hospital. They don’t have the benefit of basic and prompt surgical care. They do not have the benefits of care from well-trained specialists, most of who flock the major cities or go abroad seeking better opportunities. They don’t have the benefit of health education because there aren’t enough healthcare workers to go around. The tax-paying population deserves all that.

In the past, the government had a program to train post-graduates in the two public teaching hospitals but over the years there has been a steady decline in the funding for this program. In the last few years, there has even been a hushed rumour of memos circulating with talk of shutting down the program completely – for post-graduate doctors to continue to fund their own education by working in these hospitals without pay and somehow also fend for families. Never mind that the old program had numerous flaws like mandatory bonding to public service for years for poor pay, pre-requisites of X number of years served in public hospitals before enrolment and hindrances in registration as specialists once one has completed training.

Through all this, the system has still managed to churn out reasonably well-qualified, professional individuals –mostly because they have to adapt to those horrid conditions and improvise as best as they can. The varied improvisational skills have made for good ‘war stories’ whenever two or three doctors have gathered, we all beam at our triumphs despite the challenges. We reminisce good outcomes. We speak sadly of the ones who didn’t make it despite our best efforts. Many have gone beyond the call of duty and continued to uphold the Hippocratic Oath; the same oath now thrown in our faces as some sort of guilt-trip by the media, politicians and even some of the public we have long suffered for. Many have questioned the morality and ethicality of this strike. We have been scorned and told off for “taking too quickly to the streets”. No one mentions the past year when every effort to engage the government has borne nothing. No one mentions the apathy that the middle-class and the rich, who can afford insurance, hold towards their fellow Kenyans who can’t and who are the most affected by the ailing system. No one mentions that while this strike action is on-going, doctors have also been raising funds for one of us who is admitted at the National Hospital but cannot afford in-patient care.

No one thinks it was enough that we had years of quarrelling and discussions amongst ourselves about what should be different. But we have generations, yes generations, of firsthand experience and knowledge of what is wrong with the system and what needs to be done to fix it. And the time has come for that change.

Scrap the Senate?

Posted by on 14th December 2011

Categories: Uncategorized

In the time since the constitution was promulgated, just over a year ago, there have been three suggested constitutional amendments: the most well known the Cabinet proposed amendment to change the date of the election from the second week in August to a date in December. There has also been the proposition to amend the constitution to ensure that the 2/3-gender principle is achieved with regard to elected positions in the 2012 election. Most recently Ndaragwa MP, Jeremiah Kioni, has made a proposition to amend the constitution to remove the senate.

The reasons put forward for scraping the senate are: the expense, basically the Senate would cost too much further burdening the tax payer who will be footing the bill for the national assembly, the senate, the county assemblies, and the numerous additional seats created by the constitution. The MP also has also questioned the value that the Senate will add governance-wise stating that having Senate will only serve to duplicate roles that are already to be performed by either the national or county governments.

At face value the arguments for scrapping the Senate seem almost palatable, particularly the argument on the additional tax burden to be placed on the citizenry. However when the functions that Senate will perform in a devolved government and the checks and balances that the Senate provides with regard to relations between the national and county assemblies are scrutinised the proposition to scrap the organ seems untenable.

The Senate was created to protect the interests of counties and to participate in the law-making function of Parliament as it concerns the counties. The Senate is also charged with determining the allocation of national revenue among counties as well as exercising oversight over national revenue allocated to the county governments. Finally the senate is expected to participate in the oversight of State officers by considering and determining any resolution to remove the President or Deputy President.

There is nothing to say to that these roles cannot be transferred to either the national or the county governments making the need for a Senate obsolete. However can we always rely on Parliament to act in the best interest of the counties even if its own interests are threatened? Would the county assemblies to provide oversight over budgetary allocation made to them? Who would determine the budgetary allocation to the counties – the county governments or the national government?

Based on the Senate’s role as described in the constitution removing the organ would only result in more questions about how the national and county governments would relate. Yes, the Senate could be scrapped but a whole lot of conflicts and situations of conflict of interest would arise, so before we go about amending the constitution, why not make more of an effort implementing it?

Your thoughts?

On the Doctors’ Strike

Posted by on 9th December 2011

Categories: Uncategorized

If health care workers per capita, the quality of public hospitals, government spending on health care, the availability and affordability of health care, and doctors salaries are indicators of a nations health then we should be very worried about Kenya’s health.

Seriously worried, we live in country where we have the highest paid members of parliament, in the world, yet some of the lowest paid medical personnel. According to the an article in the Washington Post, yes the ongoing doctors’ strike is making international news, the starting wage for doctors in Kenya is approximately 36,000 shillings per month while a member of parliament’s salary is about 440,000 shillings per month excluding allowances. The contrast in the salaries of MPs and doctors is particularly startling when you think about it terms of output, or value for taxpayers’ money. Who gives more value for tax shillings doctors or MPs?

All you have to do is walk into a public hospital or talk to a doctor working in a public health care institution to realise that the doctor’s strike is probably way overdue. The Kenya Medical Practioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union has been in talking to the government for a year about overhauling the public health care system to no avail. The next logical step, industrial action, the doctors are demanding a 300% pay rise (reasonable when you take in account how little they are paid) and higher budgetary allocation for the health care sector (reasonable when you take into account the state of the public health care system).

In response to the strike the government has offered to increase the doctors’ extraneous allowances, not salaries but allowances, by Kshs 30,000 per month. The government proposed that the increment be implemented 3 phases starting in the January next year and ending in 2013/2014. The offer is ludicrous considering that tax will probably takes up around 30% of their salary, and inflation another 20%, add to that other taxes e.g VAT, rising interest rates on loans, the depreciating value of the shilling, the rising cost of living and its no surprise that the doctors rejected the government.

Taking a hard line stance, citing section 230 (4) of the constitution, the Assistant Minister for Medical Services Kambi Kazungu has told parliament that government is unable to raise the doctors’ salaries. The reason, raising the doctors salaries is outside the mandate of parliament, he argued that the constitution requires that salaries of state officers be set by the yet to be established Salaries Remuneration Commission.

However according to the wording of the Article 230 (4) (b) the role of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission with regard to the salaries of the public officers is an advisory one. The Article states that the role of the Commission is to “advise the national and county governments on the remuneration and benefits of all other public officers.” So contrary to the statement made by the Assistant Minister for Medical Services to parliament the constitution does not stop the government from raising the doctor’s salaries. It’s surprising how members of the government are willing to the rely on the constitution as a tool to abrogate their duties i.e. negotiate doctors salaries and are unwilling to following the provisions when it imposes obligations i.e. the requirement for all state officers to pay taxes…

The argument that there is no money in the public coffers to pay doctors is disingenuous, there’s been money for Operation Linda Nchi, there’s been money for the almost 1 billion shilling refurbishment of parliament. It’s a matter of priorities and right now the governments priorities seem to lean away from the improving the lot of the public health care systems those who work in it, but that could be because a bulk of them can afford private health care.

Mzalendo Vox Pop: Anon from Kitutu Chache

Posted by on 7th December 2011

Categories: Vox Pop

Mzalendo Vox Pop is a feature where we open up our blog to our readers to share their views on their constituency or on matters related to Parliament.

Background: I hail from Kitutu Chache and my MP is Richard Onyonka. There are several issues ranging from misuse of CDF fund, s to education and the most urgent and dear to me is the electrification  programme that came in the name of Umeme pamoja.

Challenges in my constituency: My MP should realise that people  in Kitutu Chache do not get huge allowances, salaries etc.  just like the MPs do and not pay their taxes.  They wake up and go to work rain or shine and pay their taxes while trying to achieve their dreams such as pay KPLC to electrify their villages and to most it has been a disaster, and this is where the Mp should stand up and voice this concern because as far as i am concerned the citizens money has earned enough interest for KPLC now is time to do the right thing.

Has your MP been effective? As for how effective he is let us be honest people we should realise that our elected officials are not Jesus so they cannot be solving every issue, but they should voice it, try to encourage people to help themselves, be reachable by the people and not hide to most but a few.

Would you vote for your MP again? I can not comment on whether i will support him or not for the next elections, because i have not heard from the opponents nor seen any that really gets in there to serve the people, because they come sugar coated and quickly forget what they said and wait for 5yrs to come and milk again.But one thing i am sure is, voting is my civic right and i will fulfill it because  nothing satsfies and makes me  a proud Kenyan as that.

Grassroots and By-Elections a Sign of Things to Come

Posted by on 6th December 2011

Categories: Uncategorized

Part of the constitutional requirements for political parties is that they have a democratically elected governing body as well as promote and practice democracy through holding regular, fair and free elections within the party.

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) recently had its grassroots election in fulfilment of this constitutional requirement. The election saw a repudiation seasoned, party “heavy weights” and long- term political party incumbents. Instead of electing the “usual suspects” registered party members chose to elect new comers to lead the party at constituency level. One of the papers termed the party’s grassroots election outcomes as “a series of upsets and surprises.” Clearly the unseating of the long-term party officials is not a common occurrence.

The Interim Independent Electoral Commission Registered Political Parties List for 2011 contains 47 registered political parties. As the political parties comply with the constitutional requirement to have democratically elected governing body and hold free and fair elections within the party it will be interesting to see if the unseating of the seasoned politicians from political party leadership continues across the board.

The unseating of political party incumbents is not just an ODM grassroots elections phenomenon. In the several by-elections that have been a result of election petitions filed since the general election of 2007 few incumbents have won back their electoral seats. So whether or not one sees political party grassroots elections as being significant the signal from the electorate to the elected is clear things have got to change.

Whatever happened to Separation of Powers and Judicial Independence

Posted by on 3rd December 2011

Categories: Uncategorized

The principle of separation of powers differentiates between the powers held and exercised by the legislature, the judiciary and the executive. The principle of separation of powers contains an element of independence of the three separate arms of government i.e. none can assume the competence or functions the other or interfere with another’s powers to the extent that power is rightly exercised.

This separation means that the judiciary should be able to work without interference from the executive or the legislature, and that judges should be able to judge cases independently, impartially and in accordance with the law. A judge should not be an instrument of politics, and a judge should not be political worker who executes decisions of the executive. A judge is subject only to the law, and the law should not be used to influence verdicts as the law is intended to be general and neutral. The Executive’s interference in the judicial ruling ordering the issuance of a warrant of arrest against Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir threatens to undermine both the principal of separation of powers and independence of the judiciary.

Earlier in the week High Court Justice Nicholas Ombija issued a warrant of arrest against the President of the Sudan Omar al Bashir stating “The order should be effected by the Attorney General and the Minister for Internal Security should he [the President of Sudan] ever set foot in Kenya.” The warrant was issued in response to an application filed by the International Commission for Jurists Kenya Chapter following President Omar al Bashir’s controversial visit to Kenya during the promulgation of the constitution on the August 27 last year. According to the Rome Statute and other international laws to which Kenya is signatory, Kenya was obligated to enforce or at least attempt to enforce the warrant of arrest issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against President Omar al Bashir.

The ruling was a bold one given Kenya’s cases at the ICC and the potential political, and diplomatic backlash. The ruling however showed an adherence to the law, independence of the judiciary and an end to the days when political and diplomatic expediency overrode the operation of the law.

The response to the ruling from both the Government of Kenya and the Sudanese Government has been swift. The Government of Sudan gave Kenya’s envoy to Sudan 72 hours to leave the country and recalled its ambassador to Kenya for consultations. Meanwhile in Kenya the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has gone into damage control mode. Dismissing the court order the Minister of the Foreign Affairs recently declared “We don’t support the ruling because you cannot arrest a sitting President of a neighbouring country regardless of the circumstances, it is an insensitive ruling.” The Minister has also said that the Ministry will appeal will appeal the court’s ruling.

However one wonders why the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be the institution to appeal High Court’s ruling, couldn’t the Government of Sudan lodge an appeal through its Embassy here? And further what message is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sending to the Judiciary with regard to making rulings that are neither politically or diplomatic expedient? The argument has also been made by the Ministry that the African Union (AU) and IGAD’s positions and resolutions on the ICC should be taken into account and cannot be ignored, however the counter argument is that a binding treaty whether international, regional, or continental takes precedence over a non-binding resolution or position.

Your thoughts?

Constitution Implementation Turf Wars

Posted by on 29th November 2011

Categories: Uncategorized

In a perfect Kenya all government organs involved in the implementation of the constitution would work together in congress to make the provisions of the constitution a reality. However this is not a perfect Kenya and relations between the Office of the Attorney General and the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC), two offices crucial to the timely implementation of the constitution, seem far from cordial.

During a special meeting chaired by House Speaker Kenneth Marende on the implementation of the Constitution the Attorney General, Professor Githu Muigai, called out the CIC for overstepping its mandate. Speaking on the request by the CIC seeking that the Commission scrutinize and approve all private members bills touching on the constitution before they are tabled in parliament. The Attorney General stated,

“I refuse to believe that your work is to supervise organs of government…you have neither the resources nor the technical expertise. The Commission will serve Kenyans well if it stayed within its mandate. We will achieve what we are doing if we respect our territorial authority.”

The Minister of the Justice and Constitutional Affairs Mutula Kilonzo backed the Attorney General declaring that, “any attempt to seek to audit the functions of Parliament and the Executive is not in the [Commission’s] mandate.”

However according to the constitution the CIC is charged with monitoring, facilitating and overseeing the development of legislation and administrative procedures required to implement the Constitution.

To achieve its mandate the Commission is supposed to “co-ordinate with the Attorney General and the Kenya Law Reform Commission in preparing, for tabling in Parliament, the legislation required to implement the Constitution.” In Article 261 (4) the constitution provides that “The Attorney General, in consultation with the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution, shall prepare the relevant Bills for tabling before Parliament, as soon as reasonably practicable, to enable Parliament to enact the legislation within the period specified.”

Given its constitutional mandate, it would seem to me that the CIC was well within its mandate to request that it scrutinize private members that touch on implementation of the constitution before their introduction to parliament, your thoughts?

Salaries and Remuneration Commission

Posted by on 25th November 2011

Categories: Uncategorized

Parliament has received the names of 13 nominees for the Salaries and Remuneration Commission – Sarah Serem (Chair), Peter Oloo Aringo (to represent the Parliamentary Service Commission), Daniel Ogutu (Public Service), Celestine Kiuluku (Judicial Service), Sarah Kinyua (Teachers Service Commission), Samuel Kirubi (Defence Council), Jason Namasake (Senate), Isaiah Kubai (COTU), Jacqueline Mugo (FKE), Anne Owuor (APSEA), Joseph Kinyua, Titus Ndambuki, Wanjuki Muchemi. If the vetting of the nominees goes smoothly the country may have a Salaries and Remuneration Commission by next week or the week after.

Not a moment too soon in light of the number of strikes among public sector employees over the last few months i.e.

  • The nation-wide teachers’ strike over salary and understaffing. The strike paralysed learning institutions across the country. Though the strike was eventually called of the issues off recruitment of new teachers and teachers’ salaries are yet to be fully resolved.
  • The strike of over 7,000 university lecturers over low salaries and the fact that their salaries have not been increased for the last three years.
  • The doctors strike, in which doctors in public hospitals demanded a 400% salary increase.

Under the previous dispensation the determination of the salaries of state officers was highly fragmented. The Parliamentary Service Commission reviewed and made recommendations on salaries and allowances of the members of the National Assembly. Parliamentarians effectively determined their own salaries, and that of senior constitutional officials. The Public Service Commission had oversight over the salaries of most other state officers.  Under this arrangement the disparate salaries between members of parliament, senior constitutional officers and other public officers i.e. doctors, teachers and lecturers is hardly surprising. Nor is it surprising that some of the most important public sector employees i.e. doctors and teachers received the short end of the stick when it came to salaries and salary reviews.

The Salaries and Remuneration Commission, established by Article 230 of the constitution, is mandated to set and review the remuneration of all state officers. It is also empowered to advise the national and county governments on remuneration and benefits of all other public officers. The power that the National Assembly currently wields with regard to the determination of the remuneration and salaries of the President, MPs and other senior constitutional officers is now vested in the Salaries and Remuneration Commission. Also important is the fact that the Salaries and Remuneration Commission’s make up is representative of the cross section of public employees not just the national assembly. These factors will hopefully contribute to more representative, egalitarian, and transparent salary determination process for all state officers.