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Women inclusion in politics is beyond laws

Posted by on 23rd October 2014

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Supreme Court Judge Justice Njoki Ndung’u arguably reflects how best women Parliamentarians have a critical role in politics. Through focusing on one issue, sexual offences and drilling it down, she was able to birth the Sexual Offences Act 2006. The journey towards realizing that law was fraught in many hurdles but she never lost sight of what she wanted to achieve.

Today, while sexual offences continue to occur, the current regime is incomparable to before. Tougher penalties with broader definitions are ensuring that sex pests are locked out of society for more years. Society in general must be better enlightened through various forums while some repugnant cultural practices must be fought tooth and nail.

This highlights the debate around women inclusion in political office. Justice Njoki was nominated in the 2003-2007 Parliament and this birthed that law. Women continue to have a tougher challenge to win political office fairly in a contest with their male counterparts.

At the moment, constitutional provisions in Article 27 (8) and 81 (3) inform efforts towards ensuring that no gender has more than two thirds in public office. Reaching this milestone through appointments is straight forward. However where people are expected to exercise their democratic rights; more effort and tact is necessary.

The National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) is currently working on mechanisms of realizing that constitutional imperative. The law they come up with will be one hurdle passed. The real devil lies in culture and political parties.

Women lead in all other spheres of life including some homes except politics. Most cultures do not believe that a woman is an equally capable individual of leading a certain political constituency. Those who vie and win have to undergo a lot of cultural hurdles including in some areas convincing elders of their capabilities. This therefore calls for massive targeted civic education.

Political parties must also show leadership. They are the bedrock of political leadership. The law governing political parties must equally be amended to compel them to come up with strategies that will see more women in positions of leadership and critically well positioned for main elections.

In addition, the patron-client relationship in our politics where wealth is a good indicator of whether one will be elected needs to be addressed. Early restrictions on availing candidates to the electoral commission, like political parties to submit their candidates list at least six months before the elections, can be used to shift the debate from monetary influence to ideology. Ideology should inform the kind of development that aspiring leader will bring if elected.

Affirmative action to increase the number of women in political office is not necessarily a pedestal but recognizes the multiplicity of factors that reduce their role in active politics. It is this recognition that first birthed their nomination by political parties to either Parliament or County Assemblies. Only when better structures are in place, will merit and pure political campaigning be the basis for their inclusion.

Integrity must Inform the fight against corruption in Government

Posted by on 17th October 2014

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Two related issues have re-ignited the anti-corruption debate. One is the order from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) that State officers should not engage in harambees as it is against the law. Secondly is the decision by the President not to assent to amendments to the Public Officer Ethics Act (2003) that would have led to executive office bearers to take personal responsibility when adversely mentioned in corruption cases.

Kenya cannot afford to continue making anti-corruption efforts without actions being seen to work. Periodic reports from the Auditor General reveal glaring embezzlement of public funds. For instance, the report for the financial year 2012/13 notes “….out of the audited three hundred and forty three (343) statements only forty (41) statements or 12 % had a clean (unqualified) audit opinion while one hundred and seventy two (172) or 50%, forty five (45) or 13% and eighty five (85) or 25% statements had qualified, adverse and disclaimer of opinion.”

Thirteen per cent as adverse means that the ‘financial statements are so material and pervasive’ that concluding the financial statements will be misleading. Recently, Parliament has raised concerns over failure of public officers to provide critical documents needed for auditing. They stated that the officers who do not provide the documents will be held responsible.

Taking responsibility and rule of law is the main focus. On the one hand, Parliamentarians want other State and public officers to take responsibility of actions of commission and omission when managing public funds. On the other hand, Parliamentarians want a free hand to seek money from State corporations to facilitate participation in harambees. The concern raised by the EACC is that they compel heads of state corporations to give them money to use in harambees where they are chief guests. Governors are also part of the State officers EACC wants to check. .

In their expected callous fashion, parliamentarians have stated that they will disregard the directive. This is very unfortunate as they are not above the law. It is Parliament that birthed these laws and for them to decide which ones to respect and those to disregard is a clear sign they only want others to take responsibility other than them.

Rule of law restricts discretion and hinders wrongful exercise of power. It is also expected for mutual trust to prevail between all the arms of government and the people. Certainty of rule of law is critical in realizing development and attracting foreign investments.

The President should also not be seen to be protecting executive office holders. Stating that if they take responsibility will be discriminatory is insufficient. So far, not much has been done to fight the vice, apart from reshuffling finance and procurement officers in government. Rule of law should undergird the service rendered by all public officials. If they exercised their duties as expected there would be no need for harambees to win social capital. Your thoughts?

Public participation in governance and the place of mobile and web tools

Posted by on 10th October 2014

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Public participation in governance has been a reverberating issue since the promulgation of the constitution on August 27th 2010. While the Constitution did not expectedly give, the modus operandi of realizing it, it offered broad principles that should define good governance, transparency and accountability in public affairs. The Buntwani conference held earlier this week was therefore very critical in shaping this issue with a view to find ways, already being practiced, and new ones that could afford a lead to a better citizenry and service delivery.

Article 1 of the Constitution informs that the sovereignty of the republic belongs to the people who can exercise it directly and indirectly. Public participation is therefore backed by law in this article and complementary ones like Article 35 on the right to information.

Participation of the public in their affairs can take various forms: bills, policies, vetting of nominated officials, shaping of development agenda and budgetary oversight. When these issues are to be addressed, the public can participate in them either through public hearings or written memoranda.

The inaugural Buntwani conference underscored that web and mobile platforms built for use in citizen engagement efforts have been fairly successful. It was clear that ICT and innovation can and will play a role in ensuring county service delivery, citizen engagement, accountability and transparency.

ICT tools like the mobile phone make governance related information easily accessible and help people overcome the challenges of time and distance that often hinder or limit their participation. Many platforms geared at engaging national and county governments on various issues from budgets to health and education were showcased.

For instance, Mzalendo the web portal seeks to promote public participation by providing information on Parliament. It was interesting to note that Hon. Kenneth Okoth who was also present in the workshop periodically checks Mzalendo for his profile to ensure his details are well captured. He challenged other legislators to take advantage of the platform to enhance their visibility and Parliamentary work.

Regardless of the possibilities ICT tools offer in raising engagement, some challenges still need to be addressed for public participation in governance processes to be a reality. First, civic education needs to be carried as the public still does not understand the roles of the elected officials at the national and county levels. Secondly, speaking truth to power has to be promoted as a value as most Kenyans find it disrespectful and this entrenches the client-patron mentality. Thirdly, elected officials tend to be self-interested and make themselves inaccessible to the public during their term in office.

That notwithstanding, the opportunities for collaboration between government, civil society groups, media and technology experts to further the citizen engagement agenda are immense. There is need to tap into the increasingly youthful voter base, which is very tech-savvy by capitalizing on mobile phone applications and social media platforms to share accurate governance information. Initiatives like the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and data-backed journalism can also help further this agenda. Leveraging the power of radio cannot be underplayed either. The success of raising public participation in governance lies in these worthy efforts.

 

 

Question Time: To have Cabinet Secretaries in Parliament or not!

Posted by on 2nd October 2014

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Parliament’s move to have Cabinet Secretaries respond to questions in the created session called general oversight on Tuesday fails to abide by the Separation of powers principle as the Constitution envisions. One of the reasons CSs were supposed to be technocrats are they are to engage Parliament on the technical level at committee stage. Going to Parliament plenary is not their role.

The move by Parliament seems calculated picking from sentiments from legislators who want to amend the constitution to allow the President to pick CSs from Parliament. This move could therefore be a rehearsal to that possible constitutional amendment.

The decision raises fundamental questions of law and practice. For instance, how different would these sessions be from Committee sessions have yet to be defined! Also, would they also attend to committees in addition to these sessions? It is tantamount to MPs wanting an opportunity to show might over the Executive as they stump that they are the people’s voice.

Institutions like the Commission on Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) and the Attorney General’s office have differed with this move. CIC has for instance termed it unconstitutional and considering moving to court to challenge it. The AG also has a problem with the idea.

Parliament’s question time is arguably the best platform on the representation and oversight roles of legislators. They are supposed to utilize this session to ask questions regarding different issues affecting individuals, institutions and any general concern about the welfare of Kenyans to the Executive.

The 11th Parliament has utilized, as required, committees which should be the way to go. Most of these committee sittings have also been accessible to media who would then inform the public on the issues being discussed.

Already, some cabinet secretaries like Fred Matiang’i and Charity Ngilu have raised worthy concerns on how different this would be and alerted of its possible interference with the Executive’s work. The move certainly amounts to interference with the smooth workings of the Executive, something the CIC affirms. It raises more concerns as the legislators insisted that the CSs must be present in person.

Question time offers a unique avenue on realizing indirect public participation as it involves elected leaders raising issues largely about oversight. But this question time does not necessarily have to involve CSs in the August House. So far, it has realized its intended objectives through practice as it should soundly be.

The separation of powers principle will be betrayed when this move becomes effective on 14th October. Only if and when the Constitution is amended can this move by legislators be accommodated.

What do you think?

Courts, Parliament ‘Supremacy’ Battles Unwarranted

Posted by on 25th September 2014

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By Shitemi Khamadi

Parliament is aggrieved by the Judiciary in how it has exercised its powers in the recent months. On Tuesday 23rd September, when the Senate resumed sittings, Senators led by nominated Senator Beatrice Elachi discussed the Judiciary at great length. They were all united that the Judiciary is overstepping its mandate with its temporary orders that are impeding the work of the house. Two weeks ago, the National Assembly had raised the same concern.

In fact, National Assembly speaker Justin Muturi is on record castigating some court orders as ‘stupid’. These comments have largely been expressed in the 11th Parliament. The reason could be that each institution is finding its space within the constitutional dispensation that is four years old. It will take time for both to underline and live in spirit with this separation of powers principle.

James Madison, the fourth US President (1751-1836) once said “… the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department consists in giving to those who administer each department, the necessary constitutional means, and personal motives, to resist encroachments of the others… Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government.”President Madison appreciated humans are not angels, as such, ambition defines man’s desire to exert power and influence, which is likely to go beyond constitutional restrictions.

Article 93 (2) states that parliament shall perform its function in accordance with the constitution. Article 94 (1) adds that the legislative function of parliament is derived from the people. In general, parliament has three distinct roles; legislative, oversight and representation.

On the other hand, Article 159 (1) is explicit that the judicial authority is derived from the people and shall be exercised by courts and tribunals established under the constitution. Article 160 (1) explains that the judicial authority of the Judiciary shall be subject only to the constitution and the law and shall not be subject of control or direction from any person or authority.

From above, it is clear that;

  1. Each institution derives its powers from the people,
  2. Each institution does not take direction other than the constitution,
  3. They all have distinct functions enumerated in the constitution.

Parliament can decide to censure the Judiciary in whatever manner but until the constitution is changed, Judiciary will stamp its authority as the law expects. Litigation has been a common practice under this constitution as a way of resolving disputes. This practice is unlikely to end despite provisions in Article 159 (2) (c) that encourages alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.

Parliamentarians should therefore ensure they always abide by the law so that their decisions are not impeded by temporary court order or injunctions. Separation of powers is a gift the constitution prides the country and all leaders must learn to respect and abide by it. Your thoughts?

 

Powers and Privileges Bill 2014 Unsound

Posted by on 18th September 2014

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By Shitemi Khamadi

Sections of the proposed Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill, 2014 of Kenya that touch on access to information not only contradict the Constitution but also fail to align to basic democratic tenets that Kenya has gained so far.

Article 35 of the Constitution provides for the right of access to information held by the State. This is the guiding principle applicable to parliamentary processes that Parliament must be open, transparent and accountable to the public in its lawmaking and policy making functions.

Media coverage of Parliamentary proceedings is a good test of the democratic vigor of a country hence progressive parliaments need to ensure they do not give something with the left hand and take it back, further with the right hand. They must be reluctant to adopt measures that limit criticism or the flow of information to the public. It is also a cardinal duty for parliaments to review restrictive legislation which may date from a less democratic era.

The proposed Bill is a step backwards especially coming at a time when the world commemorates the International Democracy Day and also convenes the Global Legislative Openness Week in which open and transparent parliament is one of the key issues. For instance, section 34 of the Bill states that;
A person commits an offence of the person
a) Publishes any false or scandalous libel on Parliament, its committees or proceedings or
b) Speaks words defamatory of Parliament, its committees or proceedings

This provision is regressive and offends Article 34 (2) (b) of the constitution which provides that the state shall not penalize any person for any opinion or view or the content of any broadcast, publication or dissemination. That section attempts to re-introduce criminal libel laws which the 2010 constitution effectively abolished.

In addition, Kenya is a signatory of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) network in which parliamentary openness, transparency and citizen engagement is a core component. Making parliamentary information open is critical to empowering citizens and strengthening their capacity to participate in parliamentary process and increase accountability.

For instance, the renovation of Parliament included the electronic registration and voting system that cost sh920M, a colossal amount of taxpayers’ money. It follows therefore that information on attendance and voting recorded on this facility should be made accessible to the public.

The recent case in which Emgwen MP Alex Kimutai Kosgey was accused of not attending to parliamentary business but let off the hook claiming the biometric login system record is not up-to-date is wanting.

Reason and the rule of law must prevail at all times. Parliamentarians are peoples’ representatives, and information on their activities; plenary, committee sessions and reports should be accessible by the public.

 

 

Of Politics and Values

Posted by on 12th September 2014

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By Shitemi Khamadi

Thomas Paine, the English-American political activist stated that “what we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.” These words reverberate when reflecting on the Kenyan politics of the day.

This past week has evidenced news on magnitude of greed from the politicians. Senators want higher remunerations and details of allowances from sittings and mileage of Members of Parliament have been reported with some expected defense from some legislators. These elected representatives were given the mandate to undertake their various duties by the voters in the March 2013 General Elections.

They are therefore supposed to be acting in the public’s confidence and trust. It starts with campaigns when aspirants seek for votes. There are those who will present their manifestos at the individual and party levels. They would be eloquent and exhibit the ideal leadership tenets needed to address certain problems. There are also others who in addition, oil their campaigns with money and other goodies.

The song Fuata Sheria (follow the law) by Sarabi Band and Juliani has a line which says “…t-shirt, 50 bob, leso, siku ya campaign ilikuwa free! ni five year long investment, utalipa akiingia parliament…” (the t-shirt sh50, wrap, during the campaigns were free! It is a five year long investment that you will pay when they gets to parliament). The song is critical of both the leaders who use power and influence for selfish gains and the public who are equally replete with using unlawful means to get by.

This brings into focus the place of values in a society. The constitution does well to enumerate them in Article 10. Religious institutions do their part in imparting the good word during days of worship and in reading the scriptures. But as Dalai Lama aptly points out, it is about the individual and what he or she feels is most critical.

As a people, what is that which can rally the country united devoid of prejudices! Regardless of the answer, does what the public values vis-à-vis what parliamentarian value change once they are sworn into office?

The responsibilities of leadership as enshrined in Article 73 of the constitution, expect leaders to demonstrate respect for the people, bring honor to the nation and dignity to the office and promote public confidence; core tenets that would inspire public trust. These qualities consolidate the expectations on national values in Article 10 specifically integrity, equity, equality, human dignity, inclusiveness and social justice.

These ideals should inform leadership right from when one intends to run for office. It is an expectation that further inspires the spirit of chapter six of the constitution. A careful inspection of Parliamentarians activity within and outside the House reveals, none of these provisions inform them. The August House to them is a market place to amass wealth and endear selfish interests.

There is this governance practice of respecting the office that one holds. The individual could be callous and inept but the office needs to be firm in what its mandate is. To what extent does the quality of the person influence the office they hold? It does a great deal, regardless of level of education but driven by passion and commitment to service delivery.

Do Kenyans expect too much from leaders after the ballot? Are they justified to call the legislators greedy yet they played a core role in accepting goodies in exchange for votes? Are the leaders being accused of something society has accepted hence the gun should be pointed elsewhere? The dynamic has to be changed. Change is a process and it starts with a conscience voter making the right and informed decision at the ballot. Thoughts?

Anointing Appointments!

Posted by on 5th September 2014

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“Being single is a status, not a competitive advantage,” replied Lucy Chelimo, the Kenyan nominee ambassador to Canada when asked by MP Chris Wamalwa how her single status would affect her work. In her case, what would status really mean!

Status could mean being politically correct! It could mean being ethnically correct! It could mean an age transition that she will surmount, like all else and be older, probably wiser and have this question not asked again if she is to appear before any vetting again.

Lucy was among 11 nominated for ambassadorial duties in Kenya’s diplomatic missions. The constitution in Article 132 lists the functions of the President. Part 2(e) lists high commissioners, ambassadors, consular and diplomatic representatives as some of those the president nominates, to be approved by the National Assembly before formal appointments.

It is a precedence practice, birthed by the constitution and which the country has started to reflect on. Prof. Sam Ongeri, who has been nominated for Kenya’s representative to UN-Habitat, was asked about his age being a hindrance to quality service delivery. He emphatically stated he is not old, at 76 to deliver on his diplomatic duties and affirmed that he has gained wisdom and skills in his long career which he would bring into this job if approved.

These two examples show that age was one of the considerations by MPs in interviewing the nominees. Other questions revolved around new ideas they will add to blossom diplomatic relationships between respective countries and Kenya.

Prior to this constitution, the head of state would choose anyone and the die was cast. It may not follow that even if nominated, and vetted in the current regime, you are automatically approved or otherwise. But it helps show a process in which the wider public can take part by contributing information either through memoranda to respective parliamentary committees or general discourse about the topic and individual.

In having the National Assembly vet certain presidential nominees, the public is having a say in who they are as a delegated responsibility by the constitution in Article 1 (2). Even so, we would like to see a more an open and inclusive nomination exercise.  Majority of the nominees being vetted are political cronies of the current administration and may not have the requisite expertise necessary on the appointments. Is it enough to put forward a single name only for each of the positions? How were those nominated arrived at? A random pick by handlers of the country’s leadership?

Regardless, it is a first and should offer lessons. The suitability of the nominees is being tasted through this process and we hope the expected bill on Public Appointments will give clear standards to guide future nominations and vetting process.

The Japanese have a quality work ethic since the 1960s by Shigeo Shingo, ‘do it right the first time.’ Has this first footing been rightly done and of quality?

Constitution Implementation – State of Play Four Years on

Posted by on 28th August 2014

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The Constitution of Kenya 2010 turns 4 this week, giving us a chance to reflect on the gains and missteps that have marked the implementation exercise.

At the centre of the 20 year clamour for a new Constitution was the need to give the public a say in Kenya’s governance and development. This was meant to ensure the interests of the Kenyans are always represented as well as to provide a check against the wanton misuse and waste of public resources.

Article 1 of the Constitution lodges all sovereign power with the people of Kenya to be exercised only in accordance with the Constitution. This sovereign power can be exercised either directly or through democratically elected representatives.

Other major gains of the new dispensation included:

i)                    Clear separation of powers between Parliament, the Judiciary and the Executive;

ii)                   Devolution of power and responsibilities between National and County governments;

iii)                 Establishment of independent commissions;

iv)                 Mainstreaming of public participation into the governance architecture.

Taking stock of where we are since the promulgation of the constitution it is apparent that MPs and Senators still control the public political discourse and sometimes slow down Executive arm and County governments in the execution of their tasks.  And although most of the laws that were to be in place by August 2013 were enacted; the deliberation processes were rushed and most have diluted ideals set out in the Constitution, case in point the laws on Elections, Election Campaign Finance and Political Parties.

Parliament has not prioritised laws that were to be enacted by August 2014 in line with the 5th Schedule of the Constitution. The laws expected included those on: Values and Principles of Public Service, Public Procurement and Disposal; Public Audits; Fair Administrative Action; Persons Deprived Liberty and Environment Management Coordination. These laws are critical in prescribing Public Officials conduct, checking corruption and waste and guarding the rights of people under custody.

At the same time, minimal civic education has been done so far. Most Kenyans still do not know the gains afforded them by the Constitution and their responsibility to engage their public officials on all levels. At the National Government level formal public participation opportunities remain limited to the election and budgetary processes.

While more opportunities for public engagement exist at county level, events in which the public can participate often register low turnout as the public remains largely unaware of their responsibility to engage and its importance. For the most part the public appears still beholden to its leaders in many ways and do not realize they have the responsibility to question them.

For the gains enshrined in the Constitution to be realized, civic education should on the long term be mainstreamed to the education system and on the short-term be an all year round affair until  the next 2017 election. The public needs to own the Constitution and ensure their leaders keep its ideals alive! Thoughts?

On Turf Wars between Senators and Governors

Posted by on 14th August 2014

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The intention behind devolution is noble – to bring both government and services closer to the people. However the implementation of the devolved governance system is more than a bit clunky. Since its inception devolution has seen turf wars – between the Senate and Governors, between Governors and the National Assembly, between the National Assembly and Senators, and at times all three simultaneously. Issues of role clarity and hierarchy are especially apparent in the most recent power struggle between senators and governors.

According to the constitution the Senate’s role is to consider laws that affect county matters and help determine the allocation of national revenue to the county administrations (Article 96 (3), and to basically represent the interests of the devolved governments at national level (Article 96). Governors lead the county assemblies running the counties, exercising oversight over the county executive committee and other county organs (Article 185).

While the constitution gives a broad framework for governance under devolution it offers little clarity on the specific role either the Senate or the Governors or on the hierarchical relationship between the two, the County Governments Act is equally vague on this issue.

The fact that two clauses can have two differing interpretations continues to manifest in strange and interesting ways. Some of these ways more innocuous than others i.e. whether or not Governors should be addressed as ‘your Excellency’ or should be allowed to fly the national flag on their vehicles, versus questions of what the exactly the Senate’s mandate of oversight over national revenue allocated to counties entails, and this is probably here where the real contention lies.

Of the three wings of the devolved government i.e. Senators, Governors, and Members of the National Assembly only two control budgets. The members of the National Assembly control CDF budget whose total budget runs into tens of billions of shillings (more recently the MPs have wanted the CDF allocation increased from 21 billion shillings to 35 billion shillings). Counties also receive hundreds of billions of shillings of over which governors exert significant control, leaving senators as the only seat with no specific budget to draw from.

Yet money is a significant factor in interaction between state officers and citizens, and definitely a significant in election and re-election of state officers. So it is of little surprise that the most contentious turf wars between the different the state officials revolves involves control or oversight of revenue.

In order to establish this control it seems several layers not originally envisioned in the constitution have been added to the devolution structure i.e. county commissioners and more recently County Development Boards chaired by the local Senator who is required to “approve” all development plans and budgets before they are presented to the County Assemblies, effectively shifting control of county funds from the hands of governors to the hands of Senators

As the supremacy battles rage on between the Senators, Governors and MPs the biggest losers remain the Kenyans for whom devolution was intended.