The constitution of Kenya 2010 in Article 1 gives the Institution of Parliament the powers to exercise the sovereignty of the people as the people’s representatives. As the guardian of the people’s interests, the legislators are also expected to involve the people in their deliberations in line with Article 118 be it in legislation or other processes.
With only four months to the August polls the political campaigns are nearly reaching climax. Our lawmakers are spending more time on the road looking for votes than in Parliament. The Budget was read about ten days ago to an audience of about 100 legislators out of the total of 416. We hope the legislators will take time off their schedule to scrutinize the proposed allocations. If only they consistently took time to constantly engage their constituents on matters before them including legislation, but truth is they don’t.
Since independence, it has not been easy for the ordinary mwananchi to inform any Bills before Parliament for that matter. Parliament remains an exclusive institution where citizens have few opportunities to air their views despite the constitutional expectation that the house would create structures for participation. Apart from the Live Parliament proceedings, Kenyans rarely interact with an institution that is supposed to represent them.
First, the lack of participation in law-making is partly because the information is not readily accessible to majority Kenyans, since Parliament uses very limited channels of communications. Secondly, the window given to citizens to submit their views is very short – on average the notice to submit their views via memoranda gives them a period of six days to respond, if any. This limits the number of people who participate and in a sense makes participation in the legislative process exclusive to a few people and organisations.
Thankfully this April, Mzalendo has launched Dokeza – Bill Annotation platform to help mitigate some of these challenges – if not all. Mzalendo hopes the Dokeza – Swahili for ‘share an idea’ – platform will enable Kenyans online to access bills that are under public participation and give their views on bills. Through the platform, Mzalendo hopes to assist Parliament to diversify participation in law making to include as more voices and views.
The process of engagement on any bill will entail four steps facilitated by Mzalendo:
- i) Digitization of bills making them accessible to anyone online. This will be provided alongside the a copy of the gazetted edition;
- ii) Expert commentary on the bills in layman’s language to make sure all Kenyans visiting the site are able to read and understand without having to deal with the legal jargon.
iii) People registered on the platform will be able to give their views on any part of the bills and share them with others via social media. Their views will also be visible to others commenting interested in a given bill.
iv). Lastly, the Mzalendo team and its partners will collate all views submitted, then prepare a memoranda and share it with Parliament in the required format.
All those interested in participating in law-making on the platform will have to register on Dokeza either through their current Facebook, Twitter and Google log-ins. The platform allows for three types of participants – the general public, institutions or MPs. Each registered user will indicate their current location and their county of interest. Dokeza’s rallying message is “Shaping Kenya, one bill at a time.” Through the platform, Mzalendo seeks to demystify law-making and spot-light this particular role of MPs.
Kenyans offline and in rural areas without internet access have not been left out. They can interact with us via the short code 21516 and an sms costs just a bob. Mzalendo will use bulk sms to send out questions regarding open calls for memoranda posted on dokeza. Sentiments received via our short-code will be moderated and posted on the portal too.
Already there are Bills that have kicked up storm like The National Integration and Cohesion (Amendment) Bill 2017 that wants to tighten noose on hate mongers or Senator Mutahi Kagwe’s Bill that wants Nairobi recognized as a National Capital and not a county. Besides there are other laws that reek of mischief like The Nairobi International Financial Centre (NIFC) Bill, introduced by Leader of Majority Aden Duale. In Dokeza we are hoping both the civil society and the public in general can come together on the platform and give their views and help our law makers not only have the public’s view but debate from a point of information. Look out for these Bills once Parliament gives the green light for participation.
In the meantime, we should all remember that paying taxes is not the only engagement we can have with the government. We have a right to be involved in any policy or law the government comes up with because it affects us. Our MPs are at the moment distracted by elections and are not paying keen attention to Bills before the House. It’s therefore up to us to utilize the Dokeza platform to ensure what is debated in the House this last month to the polls has our interest at heart.