Every year on September 15th the world marks the International Day of Democracy as a special day to strengthen national programmes devoted to the promotion and consolidation of democracy. This year’s theme ‘space for civil society’ was timely especially for us in Kenya where Parliamentarians have recently rejected oversight over their role be it in the form an ombudsman office or media coverage.
This week, MPs rejected a proposal to establish an ombudsman office to receive complaints against them. They argued that it was equivalent to “procuring a dictator for Parliament”. The MPs, however, agreed to allow the Powers and Privileges Committee to come up with a code of conduct and propose punitive measures against rogue MPs.
Kenyans will vividly remember that just a few months ago, the same Powers and Privileges Committee investigated the Public Accounts Committee then chaired by Hon. Ababu Namwamba. The committee hardly did much to restore Kenyans’ confidence with the House. To add salt into injury, the implicated legislators were only moved to other committees.
The Constitution in Article 1 states that all sovereign power belongs to the people and shall be exercised in accordance with the Constitution. In addition, Article 3 of the Constitution expects Kenyans to respect, uphold and defend it.
Often, Kenyans have witnessed bad behavior of various legislators. They range from alleged corruption to criminal accusations, all which point to the need to ensure that elected officials do not keep evading the rule of law and justice.
Chapter six of our Constitution places tremendous expectations in leaders. This chapter on leadership and integrity expects state officers, who are elected officials, to be objective, honest, competent and impartial in their service delivery. They should also undertake their functions without prejudice.
The Speaker of the National Assembly has also been called out by many Kenyans including MPs who felt that he failed to live up to expectations. Parliamentary committees have also been opaque in their deliberations and manner in which they sometimes conduct business, raising questions on their suitability and fidelity to Kenyans, transparency and accountability.
Against these concerns is the grave need to ensure that public funds are used for the development of the country. To do this Parliament must be beyond reproach but since there is a general reluctance to internalize openness and accountability in its structure, establishment of a watchdog over parliament is crucial. This is critical to promote openness, transparency and accountability as when it is done internally, chances of objectivity are blurred.
Finally, MPs ought to realize that their powers are held in trust for Kenyans but after all is said and done, Kenyans have a duty to elect leaders of integrity. Secondly, critical processes like the recalling clause in the Constitution and using the courts should be strengthened and promoted to ensure that Parliamentarians do not abuse their powers and privileges.