Parliamentary attendance is woefully low. Last week at the beginning of the parliamentary session on Wednesday 5th only 13 out of a total of 222 Members of Parliament showed up. This number increased by nine, to 22 members an hour later. However by this time the 13 members had already passed two laws through committee stage. The two laws being the Micro and Small Enterprises Bill and The Human Resource Management Professionals Bill at the Committee Stage; this all occurred within the space of five minutes.
This dismal turnout raises issues of quorum, representation and whether this is the way in which parliamentary business will be conducted; considering that the current parliament still has quite a bit of business to do before the end of its term.
Quorum in the current parliament of 210 elected members is 30. This is such a low number when compared to the total number of parliamentarians it’s hard to believe that out of 222 only 13 showed up. That notwithstanding parliament can pass laws and conduct business without quorum as long as none of the members present call the attention of the speaker to the lack of quorum. But I think it’s agreed that this is a less than ideal way in which to make laws or conduct business in what is supposed to be a representative house. But really how representative is the house if only 13 members show up?
Since not all 40 million of us Kenyans can go to parliament to represent ourselves, every five years we elect a select group of people i.e. members of the parliament to work for us, represent us, protect our interests and be our voice in the legislature. However if only 13 members of parliament show up one automatically queries how seriously our elected representatives are taking their representative role, and where is the voice of millions of Kenyans if more than three quarters fail to show up to the house?
Most important implication of the lack of quorum is how parliament is going to deal with the pending business before the end of its term. The current Parliament’s term ends on 14th January 2012. From today it is almost a month until parliament is dissolved. However Parliament has much less than 30 days in which to conclude all its pending business. Considering the House breaks for Christmas on 20th December and government business is only conducted in Parliament n Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons 2.30 pm to 6.30 pm; and on Wednesday mornings between 9.00 am and 12.30 pm. There is less 10 days in which parliament can conduct pending business.
Pending business which includes: Publication of the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update, which captures pre-election spending as well as allocations to the police and security forces for the election year and any other expenses related to the elections. Parliament is also yet to pass the two key legislations defining how the 47 counties would share funds i.e. the County Allocation of Revenue Bill and the Division of Revenue Bill. Further the Supplementary Budget which is usually presented to Parliament in March has not been prepared and this may lead to a crisis in Government operations.
The dire state of affairs has been raised by the Parliamentary Budget Committee, with the chair of the Committee Elias Mbau being quoted as stating, “We are staring at crisis and the only option is for the House Business Committee to seek for extension of sitting hours so that the matters can be dispensed with,” pointing out that MPs would be busy with nominations in January and would not have time to debate and pass the Bills. Parliament has proposed extending the number of sitting hours per day, and well as passing on the non-crucial business to the next parliament again a less ideal solution.
One of the strongest ways in which we as Kenyans can signal approval or disapproval is through our vote. To register to vote check your nearest voter registration centre here http://vote.iebc.or.ke also check out your parliamentarians profile here http://info.mzalendo.com/position/mp/.