It’s about time Kenyans took their fair share of responsibility for the problems bedeviling the country. If the past few General Elections in this country have shown us anything; it is that we have a very ignorant population that is less factual and more emotional.
Majority Kenyans are either servile or too lazy to fact-check their leaders when making public utterances that only makes it easier for politicians to manipulate them.
It’s not clear how the voters decided that development was the most useful parameter in deciding MP’s performance. What is clearly though, is that this thinking has its roots in the advent of multiparty system when MPs in government came up with several shiny and tiny development projects to woo the voters in a bid to survive the opposition wave.
Several years’ later, voters still think of MPs only in terms of these small time developments and contributions to building things in the name of Harambees. It’s the reason MPs spend a great deal of their time in attending fundraising activities and promising to build this and that – even when that which they’re promising to build is not within their Job description.
Fewer Kenyans think about the Bills their MPs are sponsoring in Parliament or their level of debate in laws that come before Parliament. Which by-the-way is the main function of Legislators.
The problem with this skewed version of appraising MPs is that, besides making elections an extremely expensive affair; the likelihood of their MPs becoming corrupt as a result is also very high. Needless to mention the public end up paying little attention to the laws being drafted hence unable to be fully involved or fully take advantage when the Bills become law.
Take the Access to Information Act that became law in 2016 for instance.
Many Kenyans are still hounding their MPs and MCAs to know when the road they were promised will be done when they can easily take advantage of this Act and get that information from the relevant office with no charge. The only time one is likely to be charged is when they are making copies of whatever information they requested. But this should be very reasonable.
Prior to the President signing the Access to Information Act into law, many people including the Civil Society Organizations (CSO) complained that it was hard accessing information that’s beneficial and needed by the public on grounds that we didn’t have a law that effected Article 35 of the Constitution on the right to information held by the State and other entities.
Indeed journalists too, had half-baked stories because they had little wiggle room to make the government or a private entity they’re investigating provide information that would have been useful to the story they were writing. Yet two years after the Access to information law came into place; State held information that needs to be public is still inaccessible and a number of private companies are not cooperating either, despite the fact that the process of accessing such information is pretty straight forward.
Even in the case of a person who is illiterate, all you need to do is inform the officer taking your request that you can’t read or write and he or she is obliged to write down your request and give you a copy of the same. By law, you should have a response within 21 days.
Admittedly, part of that challenge according to a recent meeting of CSOs organized by Article 19 was that a number of organizations have not inculcated the habit of filing important documents for the public’s perusal. On the other hand, Kenyans too have not inculcated in themselves the habit of fact-checking and seeking information guaranteed to them by the law.
What is coming out is that the public needs to be educated more not only on their role in the law-making process but the importance of these laws. Considering that on 10th December this year we shall be celebrating seven decades of the existence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the Civil Society should be at the forefront in helping the public understand the Articles of the UDHR and why we must protect human rights otherwise that celebration will be pointless, much like the laws we pass but are unable to take advantage of because we don’t even know they exist let alone knowing when and how to invoke it.
As for our law-makers, your work is cut out for you. As you sensitize the public on Bills you’re sponsoring do not stop the moment the Bill is signed into law. Especially Bills tied to human rights like the law on Access to Information that promotes freedom of information.