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Parliament 2018; the Year in Review

Posted by on 11th December 2018

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Slightly over a year ago when MPs and Senators took their oath of office; nobody could’ve imagined a Jubilee and NASA lawmaker agreeing on anything. Coming on the backdrop of a divisive and controversial election that saw the nullification of the Presidential elections; the 12th Parliament started on the wrong footing.

Parliament has officially adjourned until February 2019, although National Assembly will be having a special sitting on Tuesday 18th. Here’s a review of the August House, the past 15 months.

The 12th Parliament’s performance has been dismal to say the least. Firstly, they wasted nearly half of the year fighting useless wars between the government and opposition MPs that only injured the common man. The least said about Opposition NASA MPs’ decision to abscond Parliamentary sessions, yet drawing salaries and sitting allowances the better.

There’s little tangible evidence that MPs or Senators did anything meaningful the first few months up until the handshake. In a rather surprising turn of events, Parliamentarians from both the ruling Jubilee and opposition NASA found new cooperation after the President and his opposition counterpart shook hands on the steps of Harambee House and announced the Building Bridges Initiative shortly after.

The handshake and the falling in line by MPs from both sides was a great learning opportunity for Kenyans. It revealed a most unprincipled, probably uncaring group of leaders. While the decision by the two opposing leaders to come together brought with it peace and ended the violence, mostly in the opposition turfs – perpetrated by the police – it also showed how the common man is but a pawn in a rich man’s game.

Nine solid months have passed after the much publicized handshake but baby Moraa, baby Pendo and all those who lost their lives during elections are yet get any justice. In fact none of the opposition supporters who suffered personal loss as a result of the political violence have gotten any form of justice. The MPs representing these areas have also since forgotten having adopted the government’s slogan on the Big Four Agenda.

The first year of the 12th Parliament was characterized with petty fights – sometimes physical – mostly in the National Assembly. As a matter of fact, Senate just like in the 11th Parliament remained the sober House, often carrying out their debates with decorum. Indeed, the Senate debated more Bills the past 15months compared to the National Assembly.

Another highlight of the 12th Parliament the past year was corruption. The country in general was hit hard by a wave of corruption touching on senior government officials leading to the loss of billions. While these scandals kept the Parliamentary Watchdog Committees so busy; they also revealed to us the greedy nature of our legislature. There were cases of duplication of roles as both Houses ended up investigating the same scandals – inviting the same suspects to respond to similar questions which made the public question whether there was proper value for money.

The duplication of investigations also brought back the sibling rivalry between the two Houses with the National Assembly accusing the Senate of boar dorm and greed; forming committees with a view to investigate what was already being investigated at the National Assembly, just to earn sitting allowances. Interestingly, the same committees set in both Houses to investigate the scandals were also found wanting with numerous allegations of MPs and more recently Senators being bribed to shoot down reports.

In short from the sugar scandal that saw sugar farmers make losses, NYS season II (Sh9 billion), Kenya Power (Sh5 billion transformers), Kenya Pipeline (Sh95 billion), Maize scandal (Sh11.3 billion) to the Sh1.5 billion controversial Ruaraka Land saga among others; the investigations by Parliament have achieved nothing besides giving the legislators sitting allowances in the committees. No money has since been recovered.

It’s safe to say 2018 in general was the year of corruption scandals. Worse still, the government has been on a borrowing spree that has seen the national debt rise to worrying levels but our MPs haven’t done much to challenge this, except for the increment on 8% VAT. In a dramatic passing of the 8% VAT through the Finance Bill,2018 the House leadership; including the National Assembly Speaker, leaders of both majority and minority as well as the whips allegedly engineered a quorum hitch to see the Bill sail contrary to the wishes of Wanjiku.

Overall we can say the handshake effectively killed the voice of opposition in Parliament thereby killing the oversight role of the Legislature as majority MPs in the opposition supported government Bills that were unpopular, including the Finance Bill, 2018.

The 12th Parliament has a long way to go in so far as having meaningful debates are concerned if the past year is anything to go by. A lot of key Bills were debated from either partisan or biased perspective with little regard for what the common mwananchi really wants. A case in point was the two-thirds gender Bill. It became an issue of male MPs vs Female MPs and this became the public debate completely drowning the main point behind the two-thirds principle. We hope future debates on such emotive topics will done more responsibly.

Lastly but not least, the media has continued covering the lawmakers more outside the House; in burial and public rally functions where MPs make utterances and promises that remain controversial. It’s our informed opinion that if the media covered MPs more while debating in the House, Wanjiku will come to understand more the role of MPs and therefore make realistic demands on their elected leaders.

Majority MPs say the right things on radio and TV talk shows but are unable to follow up these conversations on the floor of the House leading us to conclude they’re playing for the galary. It’s for this reason that we run an annual award in honor of those lawmakers who remain focused on issues of great interest to Wanjiku. As the President honors diligent Kenyans on December 12th at Mzalendo we honor those Parlamentarians who sponsored Bills, moved motions or petitions on behalf of the majority Kenyans as People’s Shujaaz Awards.

It’s time Kenyans pushed their Elected Leaders to ask Hard Questions on the Borrowing Appetite

Posted by on 4th December 2018

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Treasury is looking for a syndicated loan to pay off the Sh77.25 billion (another previously syndicated) loan taken in 2015 that’s due next year (2019). The debt the country is hoping to clear with this syndicated loan is one which nobody knows what it was spent on.

Actually, that’s the nature of the syndicated loans. Banking experts will tell you a syndicated loan, among other things doesn’t require the public be informed on the details. That explains why such loans are extraordinarily expensive because; the secrecy and the fact that it is availed quite quickly without any need for disclosure of the projects or whatever it is going to be spent on makes it all the more expensive.

It’s not just the loans that the government is not willing to be accountable to its people on; even the grants they’re getting are shrouded in secrecy. A few days ago, Tinderet MP, Alex Kosgey expressed his frustrations with Treasury after it appeared apparent the government wasn’t going to divulge the deal that saw European Union (EU) give loans and grants amounting to Sh520 billion to Kenya. He lamented that Treasury won’t even say how much was the loan and how much was the grant.

The contempt the government has for the great people of this republic is mindboggling. Firstly, the Office of the Auditor General came under scathing attack following his revelations that the 2014 Eurobond couldn’t be accounted for. And as if that wasn’t enough, the government goes for a syndicated loan that doesn’t require they divulge details.

President Kibaki under the Grand Coalition government managed to bring down the government debt to GDP in 2012 to 38.2% an all-time low but the Jubilee government has managed to reverse this in the 6 years it has been in office, with a 57.1% debt to GDP in 2017. This data is according to the Trading Economics site. Never mind the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recommends that ratios of public debt to GDP should not be higher than 40% for developing countries.

One of the strange phenomena that indirectly leads to this borrowing craze that can’t be accounted for is that whenever the budget is read, MPs hardly interrogate it in light of the previous budget and particularly stalled development projects. The result therefore is a situation where, new projects are started while previously initiated projects have stalled having gobbled up a substantial amount of the budget with no form of accountability.

In fact in July 2018, MPs were divided over the President’s directive to government accounting officers whom he warned against sanctioning new projects without completing those that are ongoing. Majority opposed to the directive complained that their areas would suffer at the expense of previously launched projects in other constituencies. They weren’t concerned about the national debt or whether the monies were being used prudently. They wanted something visible in their constituencies to guarantee their election in 2022.

Worth noting is Treasury, apparently publishes a quarterly report by their Debt Management Office. Few MPs scrutinize it to get proper answers over our seemingly inability to manage public debt. From IMF and recently the World Bank, accusatory fingers are pointing at this critical office within Treasury but nothing has come of it; at least not from our elected leaders.

This nonchalant approach to the dangerously rising public debt is seen in their recent push to have rent-free house, a government vehicle, an expanded medical cover, travel allowances and an expanded constituency outreach operation as reported by the Daily Nation. The Bill that will see all 416 MPs enjoy this new benefits despite already existing perks like car grants, mileage allowance and mortgage facility is based on a recommendation by the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee report.

Not too long ago, when the country was divided and MPs unable to debate effectively on any issue due to the political heat; they miraculously came together to condemn the state of their three-star meals. In a rare show of unity the MPs demanded a complete refurbishment that will see the services rival that of a five-star hotel, complete with masseuse.

Despite the good efforts of MPs like Alex Kosgey, their unanimous push to increase their perks at such a time and despite being one of the best paid legislators in the world negates any good intention and shows them as completely aloof.

Parliament being the true voice of Wanjiku must realize their core duty, whether representation law-making or oversight should have Kenyans at heart. Their desire to live lavishly at the expense of the majority poor is no longer tenable and as a people we must begin exercising the right of recall. In the meantime, Wanjiku must push for their elected leaders to not only put an end to this borrowing craze but also demand evidence of what the money borrowed has been used on and action taken where there’s embezzlement.

 

The Gender Bill Debacle and How to Make Women Electable

Posted by on 29th November 2018

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The country is likely to go into another electioneering period only this time it will be MPs and Senators crisscrossing the country seeking our votes. That’s if they fail to pass the two-thirds Gender Bill this week.

The 2010 Constitution, under Articles 27(6 and 8) require that no more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies be of the same gender. The two-thirds gender Bill by Majority Leader Aden Duale, therefore, seeks to amend Articles 97 and 98 on membership of the National Assembly and the Senate to streamline it and ensure Parliament is constitutional.

After two failed attempts to enact the Bill in the 11th Parliament, High Court Judge, Justice John Mativo ruled that in the event parliament fails to pass the gender Bill into law, any Kenyan can petition the Chief Justice to advise the President to dissolve parliament on grounds that it was unconstitutional.

National Assembly Majority Leader, Aden Duale has re-introduced the Bill again in the 12th Parliament hoping to rally his colleagues this time round to pass the Bill and prevent a very likely dissolution of the House of its failure to meet the constitution requirement.

Already there’s a hearing on the same by Activist Okiya Omtatah this week and there’s every indication that this time round, the Chief Justice will have little choice but to advise the President to dissolve Parliament. Moreover, there seems to be an ongoing silent war between the Executive and the Legislature over the latter’s push to determine their own salaries and benefits without the involvement of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), something the President doesn’t look so impressed with. Local papers report that this is the reason the MPs are playing hard ball on the gender Bill despite Jubilee MPs being whipped by the President and NASA MPs by the coalition leader Raila Odinga.

Aside from the power games between the arms of government, there are genuine concerns facing this Bill. Firstly, there are fears that it’s likely to be abused by party owners to bring into Parliament, their “girl friends” which will only serve to embolden the attitude of male MPs and the society in general towards women. The affirmative action that saw the creation of Women Reps for instance has been termed on several occasions as bonga points and not in a an attractive way.

Vocal Jubilee MP and Gatundu South MP is perhaps one of the few who has articulated the issue pretty succinctly. In a Facebook post linked to him, the MP allegedly indicated that he will not be voting for the gender Bill since his efforts to engage women MPs to move away from a reward based system to a meritocratic one has fell on deaf ears.  He proposes to remove political parties from the exercise by introducing an independent panel to deal with applications from interested women. The MP also tackles another thorny issue on youth representation. He wants the seats reserved strictly for those who fall under the legal definition of youth.

His suggestions are quite reasonable. Firstly, the removal of political parties from picking the candidates would effectively cure the nomination of “girl friends” who have little understanding of politics, let alone interest to serve. Secondly, the youth in this country are treated as second rate citizens and are hardly included in anything meaningful. The idea to only accept applications from youths as per the constitutional definition will help increase the number of youths in Parliament who can champion for the needs of this demographic though it could sideline older women. Currently, even the Young Parliamentarians Association that’s supposed to cater for the interest of the youth has about 34 MPs who are youths by our constitutional definition. No wonder, youth issues remain a thorn in the flesh.

There’s also the fear of a blotted wage Bill. Already there are a number of Kenyans signing the petition to reduce the number of MPs under operation punguza mzigo. But this is stemming from the idea that we’re overrepresented yet the key reason is the perception that MPs are only interested in their issues and not their constituents. These are thoughts that could harm the public perception on two-thirds gender Bill hence the need for a sober discussion on the matter.

In our view, seeing as this is a constitutional requirement, the MPs as the lawmaking body can’t afford to operate in an unconstitutional atmosphere. They need to pass this Bill regardless of the issues raised. We can deal with such challenges as they arise and once we have a constitutional legislature.

In future we can have the nominations done the way we appoint commissioners. In an open and competitive environment that makes the nominees feel dignified and respected by their colleagues and the public and not beholden to party leaders. We trust MPs to do the right thing.

Of Building Bridges and the Slow Death of Opposition in Parliament

Posted by on 21st November 2018

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In a country like Kenya where those who form the government don’t get a convincing lead in terms of votes or it remains controversial; the views and interest of those who vote for opposition must be guarded. But what happens when the same opposition “joins government”?

There are genuine fears that the President’s handshake with the opposition leader Raila Odinga on March 9th effectively killed the opposition. Something the opposition led by the vocal ODM leaders continue to deny. Senate Minority leader James Orengo is on the record saying the handshake hasn’t affected the opposition’s ability to play their role.

NASA co-principals, Musalia Mudavadi has maintained the opposition is alive and well, even intimating that he was the true face of opposition in light of the handshake, yet he commands a very small number in Parliament; suffice to argue there’s no alternative voice beside the government’s going by the voting pattern on key motions.

If we thought the passing of the controversial Finance Bill, 2018 signaled the end of opposition going by the behavior of the House leadership that fateful day – both majority and Minority leaders engineered the quorum hitch. Then the appointment of Raila Odinga as the African Union’s High Representative for Infrastructure and his Nasa Co-Principal Kalonzo Musyoka’s appointment by President Uhuru to head the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) on peace in South Sudan, served to confirm the death and burial of opposition in Kenya.

Indeed, even the other NASA co-principals, Moses Wetangula and Musalia Mudavadi are reportedly having meetings with aides of either President Uhuru or his Deputy William Ruto.

The sad bit about all this, is that while the opposition leader keeps talking about his March 9th handshake with the President at every opportunity and reassuring his support base that their interests are still taken care of; nobody besides him, the President and the 14member committee task force on the building bridges initiative knows what the outfit is all about.

Solid eight months have now passed since the President and his opposition counter-part buried the hatchet to give peace a chance, explaining that there’s a need to build institutions and deal with electoral violence among other key issues.

Of interest, is the fact that, it’s been nearly 6months since the 14-member task force on Building Bridges initiative was gazetted and mandated to, “outline the policy, administrative reform proposals, and implementation modalities for each identified challenge area; and conduct consultations with citizens, the faith-based sector, cultural leaders, the private sector and experts at both the county and national levels.”

Yet the public remains clueless about this outfit.

More importantly, what was the point in coming up with this taskforce, when the issues the President and the former Prime Minister both raised on the steps of Harambee House on March 9th have been extensively tackled in the National Accord and Reconciliation Act, 2008 by the Kenya Law Reform Commission (KLRC) and enacted shortly after the 2007/2008 Post-election violence (PEV)?

It’s through KLRC that the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) came to life. The report has been gathering dust more than four years since President Uhuru Kenyatta received it. So why side-step such a comprehensive report only to create another taskforce to drain taxpayer’s money when all the report needs has been goodwill (that is now available since the handshake) to implement it?

The National Commission and Integration Commission (NCIC) was also formed courtesy of the KLRC to deal with the same issues the President and the opposition leader claimed were destroying this country; particularly the evident lack of national integration or reconciliation. Wouldn’t it be prudent to take stock of what NCIC has been doing and decide whether to begin a process of shutting it down completely if it has failed or identify areas that need strengthening?

One only needs to see how reports by watchdog committees like the Senate PAC report on the controversial Ruaraka Land are getting derailed to confirm that the opposition is truly dead. As for the Building Bridges Initiative, it is nothing short of the useless commissions the long serving President Moi used to form to take people round in circles when there was a clear way forward.

If the President and the Rt.Hon. Raila Odinga’s handshake had the country in mind and not personal gain, they should disband the Building Bridges Initiative and implement TJRC as well as the contents of Agenda Four. Anything short of that is taking the voters for a ride – particularly opposition supporters.

Until the government begins planning beyond elections; public transport won’t be the only sector on its deathbed.

Posted by on 14th November 2018

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We have become a walking nation, literally! The country has been hit by a transport crisis following the crackdown on unroadworthy vehicles by the Police. All the major cities from Nairobi to Mombasa and Kisumu are continuing to lose millions in the ongoing crackdown as people waste hours walking to work while others keep away completely.

Yet one wonders why we are having this crisis in the first place. As has already been noted on this blog before; the problem with this country is the inability to build strong institutions. What we have instead are strongmen who run whatever sectors they’re in charge of with an iron fist – enforcing unpopular rules and streamlining the sector – only for everything to collapse when they vacate office.

The ongoing crackdown on faulty vehicles and unprofessional drivers and touts has been dubbed Michuki rules, after the late Minister, John Michuki, who fast brought sanity in the sector as transport minister only for the gains to be reversed shortly after he left the ministry.

We can deductively reason that the sectors or ministries which appear to be underperforming is because they’ve not had a strong man; suffice to conclude that, this efforts will be reversed the moment CS Matiangi leaves office the same way they did when Michuki left.

At the center of this phenomenon is the lack of planning or the primitive planning the government has been engaging in since the advent of multiparty politics. Every activity the government undertakes appears to be geared towards ensuring the head of the Executive recaptures his seat in the next elections thereby undermining any serious planning beyond the five or 10 years.

Worse still is that the next government that takes over after the 10years comes with its own plans; completely abandoning efforts by the previous government leading to unnecessary waste in the form of incomplete projects that only served to drain taxpayers.

Only President Kibaki attempted to break this cycle with the Vision 2030 economic blueprint that went beyond the elections. Unfortunately the plan has since been discarded with the government of the day cherry-picking areas it wants to implement and even then, projects picked like the SGR are inflated from the original plan and routes to satisfy individual interests rather than the country.

It doesn’t help that our Members of Parliament who could’ve helped reign in on this absurdity are themselves operating within the same mentality. There’s little proof our MPs take the budget making process seriously – either that or they need further training on how to interrogate the process. Otherwise why would the passage of the Finance Bill 2018 become so dramatic?

Also, it’s during the budget making process that MPs can tell whether the government is in sync with the Vision2030 or not and ask relevant questions that can ensure the country budgets around a vision that goes beyond an election cycle.

Despite the brief instability we experience during electioneering periods, the country is generally very peaceful that it’s shameful we’re unable to capitalize on that environment and industrialize ourselves. Instead we spend five years on the campaign trail waiting for the next election.

Recently, the Deputy President appeared to place the blame on the lack of jobs on the Arts and Humanities courses suggesting that Science Technology and Mathematics courses should be prioritized. Yet it’s the government that has failed to think long term about Education coming up with knee-jerk ideas that are completely out of touch with the reality in the country like the failed Laptop project.

We are so focused on short term gratification that our MPs have more than once drafted laws to impress or deal with an individual at the expense of the nation. To that end, only this week National Assembly was forced to recommit the Health Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018 after a public criticism by the Health practitioners.

The Bill not only sought to remove Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya (PSK) representation from the Pharmacy and Poisons Board but also seeks to abolish quality control systems with reference to registered medicine. This was done without consulting the pharmacists whom this law was going to affected.

It’s also this lack of long term thinking that’s seen the government opt to draw a red line a long Thika Super Highway claiming it will be dedicated to the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT). Another knee-jerk reaction. The examples of the government’s lack of proper deliberate planning are too many to count.

We must now challenge MPs to take an active role in the budgeting process with a view to see that the government is not merely engaging in short term knee-jerk activities and challenge the Executive arm to think beyond the election cycle even as they themselves strive to change from the same mentality.

 

 

Parliament should be quick in debating people’s welfare than approving privatization of public institutions

Posted by on 7th November 2018

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Economics and all clever arguments aside, privatization in simple language is interpreted to mean incompetence! When a government opts to privatize institutions and their services; what they’re really saying is that they’re incapable of running the said institution efficiently and are thus handing it over to the private sector.

In that regard the Jubilee government has approved a number of public institutions they intend to give up to the private sector. Among them includes: Kenya’s leading electric power generating company, KenGen, the country’s largest dairy processor, New Kenya Cooperative Creameries (KCC) – which happens to be the biggest and oldest dairy processor in East and Central Africa and five sugar factories among other public institutions already earmarked for privatization.

The Executive arm of government already got approval to sell the stakes in the five sugar millers from Parliament in 2014. The House Committee on Finance, Trade and Planning while recommending Parliament approves the sale also noted that it is the only way the industry can becoming competitive and that the COMESA safeguards were coming to an end in February 2015.

It’s hard to understand how MPs easily agreed to privatize these millers without a rigorous debate. Actually, since Agriculture is a devolved function and these sales are likely to hurt counties, one expected the Senators from the counties affected to at least help steer the debate in a manner that is likely to clear the suspicion and any expected underhand deals but no, they’re all happy with the deal. Only the Governors have attempted to get the Executive to come out clear on its intentions.

In a country like ours where people see opportunities in crisis and make incredulous profit at a time when majority are suffering, our Parliament should be more keen going by the historical evidence that privatization has always led to a public rip-off more often than not. More so, where it is an institution under receivership and the new owners want the government settle all the bills like is the case with the sugar companies about to be privatized.

The danger our lawmakers failed to observe or did observe but didn’t think much about is the common case of using taxpayer’s money in the name of clearing debt and transferring ownership only for the company to fail to pick and then the public is asked to save it from collapsing due to poor management. This we have seen with Kenya Airways (although it ran profits for some time; yet the current debt far outweighs any profits made in the past). Mumias Sugar is also another case in point; although the government runs the majority shares.

Another issue here is the terms of these privatization. For instance should the new owners decide that sugar factories were no longer economically viable and decided they wanted to venture into real-estate without any regard to the farmers, is there anything stopping them? As a private entity they will be answerable to the board and not the government.

Consequently, land in Kenya has always been an emotive issue. How does the government hope to handle this in its transfer without disadvantaging the local communities who have depended on the said land?

It appears the die is already cast but we should remember is, this is not just about efficiency but our unregulated appetite for loans. The discussions we’re having now about the bloated public sector with parastatals that are overlapping in functions is a discussion that happened in this country in the 1980s that led to the Structural Adjustment Programs in the 1990s in order for the government to get loans.

First-forward to 2018 and our appetite for loans has grown 100 fold; never mind the government has failed to properly account for the money it is borrowing. In fact it is possible the decision to opt for sovereign bonds is a clever way of avoiding accountability.

In 2014 the government procured Sh250billion Eurobond to finance its “ambitious projects”. Early this year the government got another Sh202billion in a new sovereign bond despite the Auditor General saying the government couldn’t account for the 2014 Eurobond.

Our MPs should do their due diligence; take stock of previously privatized institutions and consider if they have been able to succeed since. Also, figure ways of protecting citizens from unscrupulous business men where important companies like KenGen is concerned. This being the country’s leading electricity power generating company, where does that leave the public interest if it is entirely in private hands where profits rule?

Let’s not even talk about the new KCC and the obvious conflict of interest in government that’s led to its under performance.

While privatization makes economic sense; especially where the government wants to run a free market economy; the needs of the people should be considered in great detail and this is where we expect Parliament to be most vocal – not 2022 politics.

Too much focus on CDF has made citizens less keen on lawmaking thus unable to contribute meaningfully and benefit from the laws

Posted by on 30th October 2018

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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.

Someone please advise the ministry of education to quit with the threats and deal squarely with education woes

Posted by on 24th October 2018

Categories: Uncategorized

If productivity could be measured in terms of threats then the Ministry of Education is possibly the most productive ministry ever! Around this time every year, students and pupils sitting for KCSE and KCPE respectively are threatened with all manner of consequences if they are caught cheating, with no care as to what these threats do to their psyche – cheating in exams notwithstanding.

The ministry has now extended the threats to parents and teachers; promising to work with the asset recovery unit to recall certificates of parents and teachers who are aiding children to cheat in examinations? I think we need a moment of silence to let that sink.

It’s unbelievable that top education officers, sat in a board room somewhere and combed through a number of recommendations from reports done by the ministry and other reports by the Parliamentary committee on Education and decided the best cause of action was to threaten parents and teachers that they will go for their certificates as a way of dealing with the rampant cases of cheating in exams. Yet this appears to be the modus operandi for the government in 2018.

A few months ago, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) with the blessings of the same ministry decided to threaten the children burning schools with criminal prosecution that will keep them from getting any employment for the rest of their life. This is despite the fact that, both the CID and the ministry have officers who are familiar with the psychology behind violent behavior among teenagers and can therefore offer very useful recommendations as opposed to the fighting fire with fire mentality on display.

At the height of the school arson, MPs debated the need to have Chaplains in school to help guide the students spiritually. And while we have commended that act on this blog, we also recommend that MPs in the education committee give direction on this matter beyond the spiritual dimension.

For instance, why are we turning a blind eye to the conditions under which public schools operate? This is a country where some students wake up early to read while others wake up early to fetch water. The inequality in public schools is so high that there are schools where students see the practical equipment like burettes and pipettes for the first time on the exam day, having only seen it in books they shared the entire four years of their study.

Never mind the prestige we’ve given to university degrees that to fail to make it to university, is as good as to fail in life. It shouldn’t therefore come as a surprise when some of these students or their parents for that matter, panic and attempt to use unconventional means to pass the exams. The point here is that, while the government should by all means encourage honesty among students; there’s also a need to deal with the underlying issues that make the students decide to cheat despite the dire consequences.

So while MPs have recommended the need for spiritual guidance – which in a sense could imply that this is the work of Satan – it only deals with the spiritual bit. What about the social aspect? And what about the administration’s role?

There is therefore a need to make recommendations that deal with the other stakeholders, like the board of governors, head teachers and other people directly or indirectly involved in the running of the schools. Otherwise, every year the Ministry of Education will continue threatening students and their teachers over cheating cases despite the number of Chaplains we send to those schools.

Something worth mulling over moving forward is that, while we have progressed in a number of sectors as a country, our education remains static in its operation and attempts to improve it has had catastrophic results due to the lack of proper planning in most cases. The last best thing that happened to this sector was the introduction of free primary education that increased the level of semi-literate people in the country. However, this noble idea brought with it other challenges including overcrowding, shortage of textbooks as well as shortage of teachers to mention but a few.

The sad reality is that, the government has not been able to build as many schools as possible or employ as many teachers as possible to match the increasing number of pupils hungry for education. Coupled with the lack of enough teaching material, the country has seen the standards of education go down to the point that, it not only affected the morale of the few teachers working so hard but also the majority poor parents who hope education can give their children a chance they never had.

It’s therefore easy to accuse teachers, parents and their children for attempting to look for shortcuts but is the government taking its fair share of the blame? Are our lawmakers debating how we are failing our children; particularly with regard to the much needed facilities in public schools and make recommendations to that effect? Or should we continue blaming it all on their (student’s) spirituality or lack thereof?

Until we realize the role inequality plays and challenge it; buses won’t be the only thing killing us

Posted by on 17th October 2018

Categories: Uncategorized

This country treats its poor with an unrivaled disdain. To be poor is not only a crime; it is also punishable by death. Worse still, the country has little time to think about the 55 people who died in a grisly road accident a few days ago.

We’re a country that can’t stick with one story long enough to digest it. We move from one scandal to another and the problems of the majority poor are too much to stay on one thing long enough to deal.

Sadly, the ruling class knows this and is actually counting on it. Not even death can keep us lingering. We’ve moved on to the next hot topic – for now it’s the IEBC drama. The week before the accident, it was the Monica murder and before that, it was the Sharon murder.

We move from one story to another completely numbed; unable to realize how tragic some of these stories are. Not even the fear of consuming deadly sugar has made us pause and think. We are a society conditioned to move on.

Our focus now is on the IEBC. The electoral agency has been treating us to a series of dramatic events since the bungled August 8th General Elections last year. The CEO got fired last week over gross misconduct but the Chairman is now pushing to have him, together with the other commissioners who resigned unceremoniously, charged for abuse of office.

This is a commission whose dismal performance indirectly led to the death and loss of property of majority poor in the slums. If their actions indirectly led to the death of someone important, they would probably been disbanded. But the justice in this country is much slower when it comes to the poor.

We are allergic to proper planning, preferring knee-jerk reactions instead and maybe it’s for this reason that we need to stay a little on this recent road carnage. The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) displays on their website that as of October 8, 2018 – 2,345 people had lost their lives compared to 2,162 who succumbed to their injuries in 2017.

That our MPs suspended their business of the day momentarily to offer condolences to the bereaved families and talk tough shouldn’t come as a surprise. That’s been the established mode of engagement. A building collapses killing hundreds and our MPs will suspend their debate to talk tough and warn imaginary people.

Whether the poor are dying from preventable diseases or poorly constructed buildings or a road accident, the mode of engagement remains the same. In fact the authorities will blame them for renting the houses because they’re supposed to have gone to NEMA to confirm if their landlord had adhered to the standards? The expectations of the leadership of this country on its majority poor is mind-boggling. They will say anything, except taking responsibility.

So 55 people perished and we have moved on and the much the public can do is to quote for each other the statistics and pray they won’t be part of that statistic next year. The majority poor that’s most affected, don’t demand for better either.

The public transport system is run by rogue individuals and SACCOs that are more into profits than the people they’re supposed to be serving. They increase the fare at the sign of rain with no sympathy over majority of their customers who struggle to make ends meet. The matatus are driven dangerously by people who never went to driving schools but the narrative is people are dying because they do not complain to the driver when he’s speeding.

The all important question is: why should the passengers have to remind the driver how fast he should drive when the law requires that these vehicles be fitted with speed-governors and those with faulty ones kept off the road? Have we now delegated this duty to the passengers?

Besides, the NTSA recommended (following increased deaths on the road) that Public Service Vehicles (PSV) operators and companies building bus bodies to observe best practice. Yet, these companies together with the industry operators continue flouting the rules building substandard bodies that are death traps. An NTSA official questioned the point of having seat-belts when the seat itself is thrown out of the bus in the case of an accident?

Forget the public transport system; there’s nothing public in this country that is run efficiently. Not even the government itself. We’re having scandal after scandal with no major consequences or high profile individuals going to jail.

Walk into any public school and you will be met with a sorry state of affairs. From overcrowding to dilapidated infrastructure. Heck! Even the institution charged with publishing books for children in public schools had to recall the books after a public outcry. And that’s a classic case of the lack of thought put in activities meant for the public.

Until as a society we realize our problem is a class problem and address it from that angle; we shall continue dying in public hospitals with no medicine or in un-roadworthy vehicles. How can we push government to be more responsive to its people’s needs regardless of class?

Affirmative action; balanced representation or advancing interest of the marginalized?

Posted by on 5th October 2018

Categories: Uncategorized

Politics and politicians in Kenya are the unwanted gifts that keep on giving. We hadn’t even mulled over that chaotic impeachment of the Nairobi County Speaker or that strange condition that requires she travels first class, and now MCA Mary Njambi decided it was time Nairobians realized they’re paying for someone who never wanted the job, let alone knowing her job description.

What was more disturbing about this disclosure was the nonchalant manner in which the Nairobi city MCA narrated her initial lack of enthusiasm in the job and the appointing authority’s insistence that she was the person for the job.

In light of this revelation, is it therefore far-fetched, to imagine the unnamed appointing authority; who must be acting on behalf of the party was equally clueless about the functions of an MCA – a nominated MCA for that matter?

It’s not hard to imagine majority Kenyans don’t know the functions of their elected leaders. I mean, the fact that we vote in the same individuals and spend an entire election cycle complaining, confirms we don’t get what elective leaders are supposed to be doing; otherwise we would vote differently.

However, it is one thing for sections of the society to not know the functions of say, an MCA, and it’s totally another for an MCA to admit ignorance of the role for which she holds.

Considering the government is telling the overburdened tax payers to tighten their belts further as it tries to navigate out of this economic crisis, isn’t it about time we had the uncomfortable discussion on the role of nominated leaders; especially now that we’re paying heavily for some of them who are not only ignorant of their role but also never wanted the job to begin with?

The reasoning behind this premise is that, elected leaders (Senators, MPs and MCAs) all somewhat knew what the electorate wanted and managed to convince their constituents enough to get voted. To that end therefore, we can argue the elected MPs know their JD; whether they deliver is a story for another day.

Nominated Members of Parliament and County Assemblies on the other hand are individuals who may (as in the case of MCA Njambi) be disinterested in the job they’re being offered or are not driven by the same passion as their elected colleagues because they lack a constituency they really care for and understand.

It’s therefore important to debate the role and indeed relevance of these special seats especially when we can’t quantify the return on investment.

At the core of this debate is, what role is affirmative action playing in our Parliament? Is it purely to balance representation? That is, ensure marginalized groups: the youth, women and people living with disability (PWDs) have a seat? If that’s the sole reason then there’s nothing to debate further. We must accept that we’ll always have some nominated MCAs, MPs and Senators who are not worth their salt but will somehow reduce the number of male domination or create a semblance of inclusion of the youth and PWDs.

However, if affirmative action goes beyond balanced representation and is indeed concerned with championing the interest of these marginalized groups; then we need to debate about the caliber of people chosen to represent these groups to ensure they truly represent their concerns in Parliament.

Additionally, we need to have a further debate on the right of recall. At the moment it only touches on those elected. Nominated Senators, MPs and MCAs therefore are not answerable to the electorate because the law is silent on how the electorate can deal with them when they’re underperforming – with regard to the groups they’re purported to represent.

When an MCA goes on live Radio and boldly reveals she informed the appointing authority she has no idea what the role entailed and she was still nominated and continues to draw salary for a job she can’t do by virtue of that admission; we are failing as a nation if we can’t make laws that allow Wanjiku to recall such an individual on grounds of incompetence.