The Security Laws (Amendments) 2014 Act provided an opportunity to deliberate very serious provisions about Kenya but also brought out an ugly side of our legislators. The amendments to 22 security related legislations will go a long way in helping address our security challenges. Rising insecurity may not be wholly dealt with by adequate laws, but this remains a critical first step.
MPs demeaned the National Assembly and did not demonstrate any respect for their offices or the people they represent. They were rowdy – some tore the order papers and threw them to the floor – and even poured water on Deputy Speaker Joyce Laboso while chairing a session. The scuffles went on outside the chamber too.
The Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit’s live feed was sporadically switched off to hide the MPs shameful behavior. Journalists were also chased away from the media center. The public gallery was also closed for the first time in independent Kenya.
Speaker Justin Muturi also failed to be an impartial arbiter. His leadership was wanting in how the amendments were passed. He presided over the passing of the amendments amidst shouting from both sides of the debate. His ability to guide the debate was questionable as his hearing was certainly impaired and vision blurred by the many legislators that surrounded him.
Rule of law is supreme and Parliamentarians should be first to abide by it. Although the standing orders provide mechanisms for discussing bills before they are passed, they were totally ignored. Room for critical dialogue and consensus building was also shut.
The process of tabling and discussing the bill was completely non-procedural. The disorder started when the Bill was presented for debate. Many MPs had not gone through Bill and the public had not seen or read it either.
It took the intervention of the Speaker to order public sittings which were hurriedly organized. While the standing orders are not explicit on the period that the public have to read a Bill, practice has been 14 days. This Bill was presented to the public for a total of four days despite the fact that accessing it was also a challenge.
In the National Assembly, both sides of the political divide took a hardline stance on the matter. Jubilee Coalition mobilized their numbers to pass the law while CORD sought to use confusion to obstruct debate. In such a poisoned scenario the few voices of reason went unheard.
The substantive-ness of the security issue was disregarded. Key issues the bill raised like limiting civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution needed more serious debate and did not also merit the hurriedness with which the bill was passed. The Act is now law, but any clauses that are unconstitutional can be contested in court.
Regardless, what the MPs did will go into the annals of history as a dark day in Kenyan democracy as it limited the spirit of dialogue, openness and participation in public affairs. It should never happen again.