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Recognizing MPs advocating for issues of great public interest is only fair

Posted by on 23rd November 2015

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The People’s Shujaaz Awards 2015 are here with us for the second year running and it’s fulfilling to realize that indeed there are Kenyan politicians in Parliament who are working to represent their constituents and the general voter interests.  In a country plagued with massive corruption, incompetent leaders and bad governance systems, we hardly take the time to notice when progressive contributions are made in the both the National Assembly and The Senate.

The focus on the negative political news that continues to saturate our traditional media and digital platforms has somewhat eclipsed and blocked us from taking notice of important legislation being discussed in Parliament and the parliamentarians championing these issues. In as much as we must keep the government on its toes when it comes to corruption and poor governance, we must not forget to highlight the good work by some of our politicians.

People’s Shujaaz Awards acknowledge the progress that the country is making when it comes to issues that affect majority of the public. It’s imperative that Kenyans realize that Parliamentary business as captured in bills presented and discussed as well committee reports, motions and petitions tabled in Parliament have short, medium and long time effects on the state of affairs in the country. Repercussions of some of these Bills can be felt immediately and do contribute to an improvement in the state of things.

For example in 2015 Kenya was ranked 108 out of 189 countries in World Bank’s 2015 Ease of Doing Business Report, up from position 129 last year. A number of Business Bills including; The Companies Bill 2015, Insolvency Bill 2015 and The Special Economic Zones Bill, 2015 can be linked to these improvements. In the Financial sector, The Budget Policy Statement, proposals made provisions for Treasury to ensure sufficient public participation during the budget making process and an increase in funding in the office of the auditor general for more effective output. The Excise Duty Bill contribution by calls for friendly excise tax rates, for instance by Ali Rasso Dido and The Supplementary Appropriations (No. 2) Bill 2015 proposes that money put under a particular agency, it should be spent by only that entity

Other sectors that saw impactful contributions include Health where devolved healthcare has been a cause of concern around the country. The Health Bill 2015 seconded by Naomi Shabaan seeks to revert the management of level 5 hospitals to the central government for improved efficiency and it also seeks have all doctors and nurses managed from a central point like teachers. The Mining Bill seeks to improve royalties collection in mining areas and reinvestment into communities in those areas. Other sectors that have seen impactful contributions include; Institutional Oversight, Mining, Access to Justice, Devolution, Education, Special Interests, Security, Progressive Contributions and Land.

Voting opened on 17th November 2015 and will run all the way till 9th December 2015 at midnight. To view a list of the nominees and to vote visit here.

You can also vote for your favourites via the SMS see the attached poster for details. (Poster details)



Opposition has let Kenyans down in Parliament

Posted by on 2nd November 2015

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Since the 11th Parliament was sworn into office, the opposition has proved to be rudderless and tactless in keeping the ruling coalition in check. While they are outnumbered by the Jubilee coalition, CORD has not shown that even with fewer members, they can still contribute qualitatively to enriching the August House.

This has been most vivid in the National Assembly which undertakes national functions. In the House, it only fiercely fought to chair the Public Investments Committee (PIC) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Even from these committees, nothing concrete has come out to prove that they are aware of their responsibilities and are undertaking them diligently.

The Constitution birthed a pure presidential system. This system bequeaths the legislature not only independence but also a core role in representing people’s interests in the House especially because it is detached from the executive.

The Opposition’s tactlessness has been seen in their continuous walkouts from debates. Last week, they walked out of the National Assembly to paralyze the approval of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s memorandum on the Excise Duty Bill, 2015 arguing that the sh10 tax per litre of fruit juices will make the commodity too expensive for the poor in the country to whom juice is already a luxury. But the walkout did not stop the Jubilee lawmakers from approving the memorandum which passed with just a simple majority.

In May this year, they also walked out over the tussle between Cord and Jubilee coalitions over the formation of the Public Accounts and the Public Investments committees. Again in September 2013, the MPs stormed out of early stages of the special sitting that had been convened to discuss Adan Duale’s motion that sought to withdraw Kenya’s membership at the International Criminal Court.

The opposition has also been discredited by graft claims which have raised concerns on the coalition’s commitment to offer alternative solutions to the myriad problems facing Kenyans. One would remember well the corruption and bribery allegations which involved MPs in the PAC and Agriculture committees.

One issue which has stood out has been competing interests among the Opposition coalition members. This has rendered them incapable of having a common ground on issues of public interest. Their members seem to be more concerned about the 2017 elections.

The tyranny of numbers that Jubilee enjoys mean that the best way CORD would have their voice heard is to be instructively vocal with quality arguments that offer alternative solutions or propositions on issues. For instance, on the Excise Duty Bill, 2015, they ought to have produced evidence of numbers indicating how exactly the poor will be affected.

Kenyans will also remember how CORD MPs conducted themselves when arguing against the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014. While they failed to get their way, they moved to court where their voice was heard and determined, to their favor and that of Kenyans in general.

Corruption and the current financial crunch affecting the country could have been better handled by the opposition taking its role robustly in Parliament. It needs to realize that three years into office, they are yet to record tangible contributions and they need to wake up.

National Assembly must reign in poor financial probity in government

Posted by on 26th October 2015

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Revelations by the Controller of Budget that the Eurobond proceeds were deposited in an offshore account which she has no control over shocked the country last week. The Controller told the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) the said Sh53.2 billion was withdrawn from the account and used to pay a loan without her approval. It was also unclear if the balance of Sh73.4 billion was spent or whether it is still in the account. Her report confirmed findings captured in the 2013/14 Auditor General report. The National Treasury Cabinet Secretary also admitted to the PAC committee that low revenues with high demands were leading to the current cash crunch.

This issue brings into sharp focus the role that the National Assembly plays in undertaking its oversight responsibilities. The Assembly through PAC ought to have asked for guarantees from treasury on where the money will be deposited in the first place and the specific projects the bond is meant to be used for.

Pending bills have also soared in government including in counties. The problem with pending bills is that it becomes expenditure in another financial year. Every year Parliament has to approve any expenditure. So when ministries have pending bills the accounting officers are basically making commitments for another year kind of usurping the role of Parliament which is wrong.

But the Euro Bond issue is not isolated. It ties in with the large cash crunch that the government is struggling with. Large infrastructure projects requiring huge capital investments have meant that the government borrows heavily to finance them. This in addition to tax collections not increasing means that the ambitious projects, competing with other core obligations like salary demands leads to a financial quagmire.

In March, the burden of the Eurobond alarmed Parliament following revelations that the country will pay Sh16.4 billion in interest payments on the debt in this financial year. MPs were alarmed because data indicated that interest payments on bond will account for 54 per cent of the total interest payment on foreign debt.

Kenya’s total debt is estimated at about Sh2.8 trillion at the end of June 2015, with foreign debt accounting for nearly half the borrowing. Yet the government still has an appetite to continue borrowing.

Borrowing in itself is not a bad thing. However increasing cases of corruption with less people being brought to book says a lot about wanting to stamp out the vice and promote accountability in the public sector.

While the executive could stall for political reasons to hold state officers to account, the people’s representatives need to show teeth that they stand on the side of accountability. They control the purse strings by determining allocations and also checking the use of the same. If government spending is beyond its means, Parliament has the power to control it and it need to exercise this responsibility.

Kenyan MPs selfishness is appalling!

Posted by on 19th October 2015

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The 11th Parliament had a false start in 2013 and it has never quite found its foot since. Goofing has become its enduring identity. The high House has put aside legislating on national issues and focused on the personal. Last week, the Eldas Member of Parliament received wide support from his colleagues over a Bill that cushioned MPs from criticism. Additionally there is another ridiculous – Parliamentary Society Bill – Bill that proposes counselling and psychiatry services for MPs who lose elections. All this catered for by tax payers.

Kenyan MPs being among the best paid in the world seems to think that tax payers’ money belong to them, for plunder. MPs have been mischievous with taxpayers’ money like goats in a maize plantation a trait they have taught MCAs.

Psychiatric and counselling services as proposed in the Bill aren’t bad but those aren’t the business of Kenyans. Whether an MP becomes insane because they have lost an election those are their own issues. After all they are becoming insane because of the thoughts of being cut from the supply of “manna and quail” but not for their love of Kenya.

Whether an MP becomes broke or not after his tenure, those are his personal issues. In short let MPs manage their salaries well, save for pension and medical insurance. Taxpayers are not responsible for their financial irresponsibility.

On the issue of Media freedom, Kenya already has so many laws that can be used against a journalist who reports wrong information. The country is not ready for additional laws that cow journalists. Kenyans agree that Parliament must be put under scrutiny and any wrongdoings therein be reported. The attempt of Parliamentarians to create veil of secrecy around the institution of Parliament is subject to suspicion. Parliament is a public institution and they are public officers who should be subject public criticism.

If MPs do not want to be criticized let them leave public offices and go back to their private lives where no one will care about them. But as long as they continue being bankrolled by taxpayers, their actions and inactions are of public interest.

Our current Parliament is on the wrong side of history. Personal and sectarian issues have been dominant. This comes at a time when there are claims of corruption in Parliament and dishonesty in taking mileage claims. When politicians talk about the “national cake”, current MPs take it literally and they are busy eating the cake without minding Wanjiku.

There is still time for Parliamentarians to salvage their legacy and do what is right. For the remaining years they can pay attention to issues of national interest like security, health, education and unemployment just to mention a few. Parliament has the powers to change Kenya if it redefines itself in accordance to post 2010 Kenya tenets. But at the moment 11th Parliament is part of Kenya’s shame.

Women legislators are Equal to the Task

Posted by on 13th October 2015

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Article 81 of the Constitution stipulates that there should not be more than two thirds gender in elective and appointive positions. Attaining the appointive requirement is quite easy but it is the elective one that needs more focus. The National Assembly pushed the realization of this principle to August 2016.

As Kenyans ponder on the final formula, findings from a research Mzalendo conducted suggests women have earned the political positions they hold and make valuable contributions. Some of our key findings were:

First, Women MPs offer just as much value as their male counterparts. They contribute in terms of statements asked, motions proposed and Bills discussed and passed on the floor of the two Houses of Parliament: Senate and National Assembly.

Secondly, women parliamentarians are not just concerned about women issues. Hansard records reveal they present issues affecting everyone in society including men. From March 2013 to June 2015 women have spoken up regarding security, water, education, devolution, health, mining and food security in addition to the so called family bills.

In fact in many cases, the women representatives have provided solutions on how the issues should be resolved. On security issue for instance, there was a suggestion on better training, equipping and remunerating police reserves in far flung areas to ensure they complement the work of the police.

Thirdly, women MPs are quite knowledgeable. They leverage on their academic knowledge, professional expertise and life experience to argue and bring out quality contributions on issues.

Fourthly, the findings indicate that women MPs have the ability to support each other for influence and use theirs numbers for leverage on issues of interest to them and their constituents.

Lastly, there is no marked difference in contributions of women Parliamentarians whether elected, nominated or selected under affirmative action. They all provide quality contributions to national interest issues.  Read more about the research here.

So far, the proposals presented to Parliament to meet the two-third gender principle, are about nominating women. However, Mzalendo believes Kenyans can elect more women Parliamentarians, as Debunking Myths report invalidates the fears and stereotypes the public has held against Women politicians as a whole.

On the other hand, political parties need to offer women a favorable environment for them to actively participate in party politics. This is a key building bloc to their participation in elective politics. Kenya has tales of violence being meted on women to intimidate them against running for political positions so that they quit and leave the seat for men. Men who believe in women place in leadership have to step up and create space for them in political parties.

Even so, for women to be given an equal footing in competitive politics, sustained public pressure is essential. The prevailing mindset against women in politics has to change. Women and youth should join political parties then use their numbers to support and elect women as political leaders. What do you think?

Urbanites need to own urban politics

Posted by on 5th October 2015

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According to the recent Ipos-Synovate study, Kenyans in rural areas are more aware of their legislators and also engage them more than those living in urban areas. This finding goes to show that urban dwellers are disinterested in their local politics, a surprising fact given the ever increasing rural to urban migration.

Article 1 of the constitution vests the sovereign power to the people of Kenya and therefore a disinterested citizenry gives out their power. This is unfortunate considering that most urban dwellers are considered more literate and shapers of public opinion.

The five largest cities and towns of Kenya: Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and Eldoret have a combined total of 47 constituencies and an approximate population of 8 million and are the major socio-economic hubs of the country. This economic power, that is partly determined and maintained by elected leaders through policy formulation and implementation needs to give urbanites more reason to engage leaders, and inform them on their priorities.

The study stated that the proportion of knowledge about MPs is higher in western Kenya, eastern Kenya, central Kenya, northeastern Kenya and Nyanza at between 89 and 81 per cent, against 59 per cent in Nairobi.

Voting in one’s rural constituency is the leading reason for non-participation in urban politics. Kenyans need to recognize that it is more helpful to vote where you live so that you can hold your leader to account when they fail. If urban areas become centres of leadership excellence by virtue of people therein being participative the change may also be embraced in rural areas.

Elected leaders who exercise our sovereignty in trust, have tremendous powers and responsibilities. To whom much is given, much is expected and this informs the reason why the public must keep their leaders on toes so as to deliver.

Parliamentarians are expected to legislate, exercise oversight and represent public interests. In all these mandates there is room for people to influence through public participation. In a democracy like Kenya’s it is the people who take charge of their country’s destiny.

Disinterest in politics is what is affirming mediocre leadership in Kenya. Most Kenyan Parliamentarians are urban dwellers, thus Kenyans in urban areas have more opportunity to engage them to further their local and rural interests. Easier access to internet offers more avenue for urbanites to engage their leaders and they therefore have no excuse of being apathetic.

In most cases it is the urbanites who use the internet to register their discontent in matters of governance. But it would be better if they knew their elected leaders first and address them before whining via social media which most of the times is inconsequential.

It is time to rethink our politics. Knowing the legislator is the first step. In addition, our website has most of their contacts and you can seek them out to hear your voice and address your concerns on issues tabled in Parliament. Good governance starts with you!

Sobriety will end public servants strike

Posted by on 28th September 2015

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The four week long teachers’ strike ended in a stalemate as the Executive remained adamant that the 50-60 per cent pay increment teachers were demanding for could not be met. The strike had significantly affected learners in public schools more so those preparing for their final examinations – KCSE and KCPE. The Employment and Labour relations court stepped in and ordered teachers to suspend the strike and return to class as arbitration was pursued.

Though, this teachers strike has been the longest in Kenya’s history, it is just but one in a recent spate of industrial unrest that the civil service has faced. The health sector has been severely affected by strikes too. Doctors and nurses are likely to go on strike in October also over pay issues and Parliament’s refusal to take up their proposal on the re-structuring of the health sector.

Over the last 30 months, Kenyan doctors and nurses have been on sporadic strikes in various counties. In fact, presently the Kenya National Union of Nurses is in talks with the Nairobi County Government over the same. This April, anti-stock theft police officers were also allegedly on a go-slow protesting withheld operational allowances amounting to Ksh 4.5 million. The common thread at the center of most of the strikes has included: poor pay, discrimination, salary delays and poor working conditions.

In a public address to the nation, President Kenyatta stated that paying the teachers will disrupt harmonization of the public service that is in progress. He also argued that the current state of the economy make the increment unsustainable. However, a substantive argument from the Parliament’s Budget Office (PBO) said that Government can afford to increase the wages and end perennial industrial strikes if it cuts down on wasteful spending. The report states that this includes all strikes by public officials. The report titled “MPs budget watch 2015-16: Value for money,” further calls for efforts to ensure that Kenya Revenue Authority collects more in taxes so as to handle the increasing financial demands.

Going by the PBO’s report, teachers, doctors and nurses need to be accorded their due significance given their contribution to the economy. They should be paid something, even if not what the court declared. Government should show leadership and respect court orders by whenever issued.

On the short to medium term, government should negotiate with all the public servants unions. Satisfied public servants are essential to good service delivery to alleviate sufferings of majority of Kenyans dependent on public schools and health system respectively. As government seeks to check the public wage bill, performance contracts need to be introduced to check the marked watering down of the education and health systems.

In labour relations, strikes are pursued as a measure of last result. Would you say majority of our teachers, doctors and nurses serve Kenyans out of passion or just seek short term gain? Are you satisfied with the quality of education in public schools and the public health system? Beyond salary increments, what measures should be introduced to improve the education and health systems?

Kenya needs to be vigilant in building her democracy

Posted by on 19th September 2015

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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.


Affirmative Action Social Development Fund against the spirit of the Constitution

Posted by on 12th September 2015

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The recently launched Affirmative Action Social Development Fund (AASDF) is against the spirit of the Constitution. Women County Representatives (WCR) lobbied for the fund arguing that without it, their presence at the grassroots level is not being felt. Apparently, the WCRs will spend the Ksh 2 billion kitty to support women, youth and marginalized groups.

Projects which the affirmative action fund is designed to support include helping the recovery of sexual and gender-based violence survivors, youth who have dropped out of school, orphans and vulnerable children and talent nurturing of young people.

The fund which will be disbursed for the first time, comes at a time when a court ruling on the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) found it unconstitutional and ordered that it be restructured within a year.

The most fundamental question in the ruling was on the principle of separation of powers. Parliament is supposed to undertake representation, legislation and oversight including controlling the budget. Having elected MPs sit in CDF committees’ makes them part of the executive as they get involved in projects implementation.

When CDF was introduced in 2003, MPs were patrons of their local committees. However, the 2010 Constitution rendered the fund unnecessary. But in utter disregard of the law, they amended the law in January 2013 to give themselves a greater say.

The court ruled that the fund offends devolution hence it needs to be handled by devolved governments. So far, various stakeholders including MPs are working to amend the CDF Act to be in tandem with the Constitution and the court order.

Under the Constitution, the functions that the CDF kitty supports are the same as those devolved units. This brings in an issue of duplicity and also an opening for corruption. Already, the Auditor-General has exposed possible fraud running into more than Sh200 million in CDF expenditures from over 30 constituencies.

Some of the roles expected of the AASDF kitty also overlap with the National and County government mandates which renders it also unnecessary. Institutions should stick to their mandates and not interfere and purport to undertake functions which should be done by a different institution, or organ of government.

If the AASDF kitty is rolled out, a wide door to black-mail the National and County governments on budgetary matters will have been opened. If CDF did not exist, the Women County Representatives would not have demanded for their own fund. Senators have also been lobbying for a fund and in some counties Ward Representatives have already allocated themselves a budget for their ward. Such funds weaken oversight and establish parallel governance at the local level instead of creating a cohesive entity.

A key lesson from the CDF funds is politicians’ use them to rally support during elections. They only start projects that ensure they personally benefit directly or indirectly through their cronies. This is essentially what the Constitution wanted to cure by introducing devolution. In this case, should the AASDF kitty even be deployed? What will it take to nip it?

National Assembly has powers to end the Teachers Strike

Posted by on 7th September 2015

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Kenyan teachers have been agitating for their pay increase for close to 18 years and Parliament has been right at the centre. In the current tussle, the Budget and Appropriations committee of the National Assembly decided teachers’ salaries would not be implemented because teachers declined to sign performance contracts.

Hansard records show the last teachers’ salary review was done 1997 following a strike that led to adopting a phased salary structure that ended in 2007.  Reporting to Parliament in July 2008, Hon. Calist Mwatela who was the assistant minister of education admitted there were huge discrepancies between the teachers’ salaries and that of other public servants. Regardless, the salary structure agreed upon in 1997 was not honored.

In January 2009, the Ministry of Education (MOE) formed the Teachers Service Remuneration Committee to discuss how they would pay the teachers’ pay rise amounting to sh17 billion. However deliberations of the committee with TSC and union officials did not yield fruits.

Teachers striked again in September 2011.  Parliament discussed the issue at length as the strike paralyzed learning as students prepared for their national examinations. Parliamentarians discussed the need to not only increase teachers’ numbers but also their pay in order to motivate them to work better.

The matter was debated again in 2012 as Parliamentarians evaluated allowances given to teachers among other officials. At the time, the MOE explained that further discussions on salaries would be addressed by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission. Moreover, the Minister of education claimed the phased salary increment had been implemented fully.

During the budget making process in 2013, MPs again raised the issue of disparities in allowances that teachers get in comparison to other civil servants and urged that this be rectified. In fact, when Dr. Lydia Nzomo was considered and approved as the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) chairperson they tasked her to end the perennial strikes over salaries.

It is clear that MPs have elaborated on this issue for a long time. In fact, any discussion captured in the Hansard about teachers also includes comments on their need to be better remunerated.  Teachers perform a critical service and shape every young Kenyan’s future. Disgruntled teachers cannot give quality service as they are distracted running other businesses to make ends meet.

Under the Constitution, Parliament controls the purse strings and allocates and locates budgets. As it was evidenced when they located some additional funds for counties, they have the powers to decide on the matter. Parliament could for instance allow TSC to pay them from their existing budget and replenish it from supplementary budget. Wisdom must inform the final decision. What do you think?