Party Manifestos: A Tool for Accountable and Transparent Governance

Posted by on 2nd December 2020

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Party manifesto is the primary tool via which every political party makes its position known in a raft of issues touching on the governance of a country. They play a crucial role in capturing, presenting and communicating a party’s organized thinking. It is a tool that ideally allows for accountability in political party systems. In organized systems, where political parties are anchored on sound structures and crafted along strong ideological foundation, manifestos form part of the tools and platforms via which the parties are able to engage with the electorate through definite and clear elucidation of standpoints on various political, economic and social issues that are of paramount importance to the country. Their visibility and utility materialize during elections, whereby they enable the electorate to delineate their choices from a cocktail of alternatives.

In Kenya, the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 (COK, 2010) seeks to streamline political parties within the country’s governance ecosystem. Articles 91 and 92 provide for, among other things, a basic regime guiding responsible governance of political parties, including composition, leadership and principles. The Political Parties Act, 2011 further seeks to entrench effective management of political parties. Specifically, with regard to party documentations, Section 17 (1) (c) provides that: ‘A political party shall maintain at its head office and at each of its county office in the prescribed form, an accurate and authentic record of… a copy of the policies and plans of the political party.’ Besides, the Constitution establishes central values that bind every person and entity within the country’s bounds. Article 10 of the COK, 2010 provides, among other things, that ‘(T)he national values and principles of governance include good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability.’

Despite the robust and revolutionary legal provisions, the effectiveness of party manifestos, as tools of accountability and good governance in the political space remains a challenge in Kenya. The situation was borne out by the findings of a recent study that was commissioned by Mzalendo Trust. The study revealed that political parties/coalitions do not make explicit references to the manifestos in their legislative agenda, and largely disregard them immediately after elections. For instance, the ruling Jubilee Party’s (JP) legislative agenda has thus far been influenced by the government’s priority areas, rather than an exploration of the ideas in the 2017 manifesto. Moreover, the report established that the political parties/coalitions’ negation of their manifestos is enabled by their lack of strong ideological positioning. Kenya’s political outcomes are influenced by ethnicity, personalities, and other considerations, rather than policy positions. If party manifestos are to optimally play their role, then stakeholders, duty bearers and other actors have a role to play. Parliament, media, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), political parties and the Office of Registrar of Political Parties (ORPP), among others have an inevitable duty to play toward extracting success out of party manifestos.

Covid-19 Reminds Us of the Much-needed Health Reforms

Posted by on 23rd November 2020

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In early 2017, Kenya’s striking doctors used the hashtag – #MyBadDoctorExperience” to tell their horror stories on social media. For about 50 days, the Kenyan public health system was at a standstill. This was a health crisis, as told by the doctors in the trenches. Three years later in the midst of a pandemic with little to no basic improvement in the health care system, medics are now raising concerns over life-threatening working conditions.

Recent weeks have seen a worrying number of healthcare and frontline workers succumb to Coronavirus. This is despite medical workers, through their respective unions, making several attempts to seek the audience with the government over the unavailability of Protective Personal Equipment (PPEs), provision of a Covid-19 medical cover for when they fall sick and their compensation. An indication that soon the already overstretched health facilities and medics will reach their elastic limit with the rising numbers of the Covid-19 infections.

The second wave of the pandemic seems to have caught the national and county governments flat-footed yet huge sums of money, in the form of annual county allocations and conditional grants, were disbursed to counties during the early stages of the pandemic in the country. As of September 12th 2020, only seven counties were reported to have attained the 300-isolation-bed capacity for Covid-19 preparedness. To mean that the other 40 counties have to quickly come up with ways to meet this demand. While these concerns have been voiced over and over again, the political class seems to have slept on the job and were recently jolted to the reality of a broken healthcare system when Matungu MP Justus Murunga collapsed and died shortly.

It is reported that the late MP collapsed at his home and was rushed to Matungu sub-county hospital where they could not admit him due to the hospital’s lack of oxygen. The family then quickly started their journey to St Mary’s Mission Hospital about 10 kilometres away during which the MP’s condition deteriorated. He was admitted to the casualty department where efforts to resuscitate him didn’t bear fruit. This news saddened and maddened his colleagues who pointed fingers at governors for failure to strengthen the healthcare services.

While expected, the legislators’ reactions have since drawn a lot of criticism from Kenyans. Kenyans have for a long time endured long trips to access medical care and specialized treatment, dealt with crazy hospital bills and fallen into debt while seeking treatment and died over negligence. The political class, on the other hand, has seemed detached from most Kenyans’ reality having the privilege to access world-class health care either in private facilities, that are mostly based in Nairobi or outside the country. All the while ignoring the need and importance of localizing emergency treatment and equipping all county hospitals and clinics for such eventualities.

The nonchalant approach by representatives, unfortunately, failed to factor in such possibilities where their health and life can be in the hands of the very local health facilities that they have ignored for a while. When the country announced its first positive Covid-19 case in March, Makueni Senator, Mutula Kilonzo expressed how leaders would now realize that the disease did not discriminate on social status. Though the sentiments shared were from an economic lens, the words still ring relevant to our current situation.

It is sad that the late Murunga’s life could not be saved but it calls for leaders to look inwards and self-evaluate. Development should not be driven by self-serving interests. Provision of services should not be viewed as a favour to the citizenry but as a basic right that is provided for by the Constitution, that needs to be fulfilled. Public service is essentially conducted for posterity and with the goal to meet the needs of all without discriminating. This is a call to the leaders both at the county and national level to ensure services are provided efficiently, expeditiously and with openness.

Parliamentarians have an even bigger task to oversight the executive’s spend of public resources to ensure that the taxpayer gets value for money.

While the recent numbers indicate that we’re in for a couple of tough months, now is not the time for the leadership to drop the ball. Every Kenyan’s life matters and it is the responsibility of the government to guarantee the health and well-being of all.

 

Youth Central to Inclusive Governance

Posted by on 9th November 2020

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It has been exactly one year since Mzalendo Trust launched two reports on the inclusion and participation of youth and women in the 11th and 12th Parliaments. A look back at the 12 months since sharing the findings, the challenges and recommendations highlighted for these two special interest groups still ring true.

One of the challenges concerned linkages, challenges and opportunities to effective discharge by Youth MPs of the constitutional mandate. This, in particular, came to the fore during the release of the 2018 scorecard mid last year where young legislators recorded a dismal performance compared to older, seasoned members. It is against this backdrop that Mzalendo Trust in partnership with the Kenya Young Parliamentarians Association (KYPA) and the support of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) conceptualized the youth assembly that brings together young leaders from various political parties across the country to deliberate youth-related matters and develop policy and legislative solutions.

As at now, three virtual meetings and one physical meeting have been held with participants drawn from 30 political outfits. The deliberations have proven what has been common knowledge for a while, that the youth are not lacking in ideas to drive development in their wards, constituencies, counties or country at large, but instead are lacking in opportunities to implement them. The denial of opportunities for young people, who make up 75% of the population as per the last census, is highly systemic and change can be achieved largely by having reforms in instruments of governance such as political parties key to their election to the national assembly and county assemblies.

Mr Enock Onkoba, the youth leader at the Kenya National Congress Party for instance is one who gives a tale of a young person who has unsuccessfully endured numerous challenges to gain an opportunity to serve his constituents. From being robbed off his ticket party even after garnering majority votes in the party primaries to intimidation tactics by opponents from the same party, Onkoba has had to jump so many hurdles to have a fair chance at securing a seat at the county assembly. He, however, remains unshaken and lauds the youth assembly initiative by Mzalendo and KYPA that aims to build the capacity of youth leaders who seek to serve at different levels. Drawing from a past similar experience, he notes the relevance and importance of such initiatives that led to five youth leaders being elected as members of the county assembly back home in the 2017 general election.

With the help of other young parliamentarians such as Nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura and Murang’a Women Representative Hon. Sabina Chege, the participating young leaders have gained a deeper understanding of the workings of the institution of Parliament and the mandate of a lawmaker. It is such knowledge that will empower them to articulate the role of an MP to their constituents while aligning their manifestos with the same with the hope to deliver once elected into office.

It is our hope that the increased participation of young people in politics will come a long way in combating voter apathy among the electorate aged between 18 and 35 years old. As it has been witnessed in the recent American elections, young people have the ability to turn around an election. The more youth front themselves as potential candidates, the more their peers are likely to take part in the election and choose members that understand and have the capacity to represent their interests. To truly and effectively solve the issue of inclusion and diversity, the conversation on policy changes has to not only be centred around special interest groups but it has to be driven by them.

Even as we hope to localize the historic election of American Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris we should remember there is power in levelling the playing field at the political party level, consistent civic education and mobilization of voters the grassroots level. This should be harnessed in the coming months as we hope to attain better governance come 2022 and in the future.

State Officials Should Lead by Example in Fight against Covid-19

Posted by on 25th October 2020

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During his weekend press briefing Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe expressed concern with the rising number of positive Covid-19 cases in the country that signaled a second wave of the virus. He particularly put young people on the spot for flouting the preventive regulations while they go about their entertainment. Indeed Kenyans have let their guard down a little in the recent weeks following a few directives by the government. The lifting of the ban on operation of bars and clubs has seen scores of revelers gather at entertainment joints to wind down their week. A significant number of Kenyans in every day activities have been spotted not donning masks and public vehicles have been alleged to carry more passengers than is required by authorities. However in condemning Kenyans’ behaviors in observing government regulations, Mr Kagwe left out a particular segment of people that have violated the regulations severally, politicians.

The caution he issued appeared to be a biased attack against the youth while the political class has been moving around the country for one reason or the other without observing the government directives. One would be forgiven for thinking that we were in an election year given the increased number of rallies and gatherings by elected leaders. If anything CS Kagwe would have been particular about state officials who attend rallies that attract crowds bigger than 300 people, the maximum number permitted in public gatherings as directed by the President in his last address. 

Matthew 7:3 says,”Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” It therefore seems hypocritical for the government to heap blame on the youth for the surge in Covid-19 patients while a good section of state officials – whether elected or appointive – have been on countrywide tours campaigning for or against the BBI report that is to be handed over to President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

With the possibility of there being a second wave of infections, both national and county governments should instead shift focus and resource to enhancing the capacity of health facilities across the country. In fact with the phased school reopening, the Ministries of Education and Health should be appraising Kenyans on the status of school preparedness and monitoring the effectiveness of any measures put in place. Details of how schools are providing and distributing protective gear to students and teachers should be provided to parents and stakeholders to inform the steps needed to be taken to address any gaps that may emerge in the coming weeks. 

Coordination at both county and national level should be enhanced for proper utilization of funds that were recently disbursed by the national government to all the 47 counties. Caution is a collective responsibility for both the government and citizens and its a responsibility that doesn’t discriminate based on social standing. So while the citizens have a hand in ensuring their safety, state officials should look inwards and lead by example before calling out the youth for flouting rules.

 

This post was initially uploaded on October 19th 2020.

Resumption of Learning and the Question of Schools’ Preparedness

Posted by on 14th October 2020

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Education Cabinet Secretary Prof. George Magoha released the schedule for the resumption of studies which would see Grade Four, Standard Eight and Form Four Learners report for their second term on October 12th 2020. He also announced that the National examinations for these three levels would be taking place in March 2021, with KCPE exams beginning on March 22 and ending on March 24, and KCSE exams starting on March 25 and ending on April 4. This announcement came a day after tertiary education institutions had rolled out phased reopening of campuses while giving priority to final year students.

The resumption of studies for learners across the country was a much-anticipated move following the abrupt closure in March to prevent the spread of the global coronavirus. However, the Ministry has come under heavy criticism for the confusion on reopening dates, the non-involvement of parents and learners in decision-making and failure to address schools’ preparedness. The move by the Ministry, that has been termed as rushed by some leaders, has raised serious questions on the safety of students and protocols that have been put in place to ensure that

Further, the Ministry has come under fire for ambushing parents and guardians with the announcement thus denying them ample time to prepare for the return of their children to school. Despite the recent directives by President Uhuru Kenyatta that have seen the economy gradually reopen, many households are still reeling from the negative economic impact caused by the pandemic. A study by Twaweza East Africa conducted between 29th May 2020 and 30th June 2020 found that 85% of Kenyans had either lost their source of income or were facing financial constraints due to the pandemic. Some of whom were forced to travel back to their rural homes seeing that they could not afford their monthly rent expenses.

This could mean that a significant percentage of learners could report late to the schools they went to pre-Covid-19 or in the worst-case scenario be forced to postpone learning to a later time next year. With the likelihood of this happening, several students run the risk of being left behind on the syllabus or the possibility of repeating class. Such implications deepen the already existing gaps in education between the affluent and those who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Those who are able to rejoin school have to adapt to the protocols that have been put in place to prevent the spread of the virus in the institutions. From wearing face masks, social distancing in classrooms and temperature checks, learners and teachers have been put to task to ensure strict adherence with the Ministry of Health protocols.

With the majority of learners enrolled in public institutions, questions on their preparedness have arisen. Prior to the pandemic, most public schools had been struggling with inadequate funds, poor teacher-student ratio and infrastructural gaps. The Ministry of Education hasn’t appraised parents and the public in general on the measures put in place to not only ensure the safety of learners in schools but that these measures are undertaken in a humane way that doesn’t violate their human rights. In England for instance, the Department for Education inspected the schools weeks in advance before learning resumed and the government even went ahead to widen their scope to supporting services such as students’ transport. Beyond encouraging students to walk, cycle or scoot to school the British government is reported to be providing an additional GBP 40 million to local authorities to increase home to school transport to curb the spread of coronavirus. Considering the high number of day scholars in all levels of education in Kenya, such steps would go a long way in ensuring that the students’ safety is not compromised even outside the school premises.

The next few weeks will therefore be critical in observing the effectiveness of the protocols put in place by the Ministry. While the initial move to reopen schools excluded the input of the majority of the stakeholders, the government should correct this wrong by involving parents and learners in the coming weeks and months to stay ahead of the curve. The safety and wellbeing of students should be protected at all costs.

 

The article was written by Ruth Akolo

If not careful we might find ourselves back in 2007

Posted by on 9th October 2020

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When President Uhuru Kenyatta further eased the Covid-19 restrictions during his September 28th address most Kenyans took this as a cue to revive the economy that had taken a hit from the pandemic. Restaurants and entertainment joints have since enjoyed a boom in business with more revellers going for a dose of ‘enjoyment’ as it is commonly referred to. However, it seems that it’s not just lovers of the drink who are enjoying the President’s directive to increase the number of people in public gatherings from 100 to 200. Politicians have taken advantage of this to traverse counties to sell their agendas, be it the BBI conversation or 2022 succession politics, to the masses.

The images taken from these political tours across the country would have one convinced that Kenya is in an election year. Indeed, we are a peculiar country. The 2022 agenda is one that has been spoken of shortly after the 2017 elections were concluded and continues to gain momentum despite us having almost two years left before going to ballot again. Even before Covid-19 Kenya’s economy wasn’t in a good state. One would expect elected officials to exercise prudent use of time and resource to prioritize the country’s developmental goals and vision to make up for the time lost and mistakes made along the way.

As such, recent weeks have seen the weekends buzzing with political gatherings in various parts of the country. The latest one that was held at Kenol in Murang’a county, unfortunately, led to the death of two young people signalling that we are not out of the woods yet as far as political violence is concerned. The issue has been escalated to the police authorities who are currently trying to get to the bottom of it. Whether the investigations lead to prosecution or not, the Sunday incident is one that should have all Kenyans concerned.

Kenya has a dark history of ethnic-based post-election violence (PEV). Anyone over 18 years old can still remember the tension surrounding the 2007 election that led up to the December 2007 to January 2008 post-election violence which saw over 1000 lives lost and over 300,000 people displaced. Some of the victims, unfortunately, still identify as internally displaced persons (IDPs) to date. So as the succession politics gain momentum by the day, what does it mean for Kenyans? What does it mean for those that are still scarred from the 2007/08 post-election violence? What does it mean for the thousands of Kenyans who have been rendered jobless during the pandemic? Does their current economic vulnerability make them an easy target for politicians who may opt to employ chaotic tactics to have their way? These are pertinent questions that need to be addressed as we draw closer to an election that is expected to be highly contested.

The political culture in Kenya has morphed into one that places a lot of emphasis on influence and power as opposed to service delivery. Which then explains the hunger by most politicians to seek a higher office or hold on to the ones they occupy by whatever means possible. That coupled with the fact that Kenya is yet to make any serious reforms to address political violence is not only worrying but it calls for serious and long-term interventions. Now more than ever, oversight bodies within the government, media and civil society need to exercise vigilance and call out comments and actions by politicians meant to incite and instigate chaos. Ultimately leaders, whether in elective or appointive positions need to exercise wisdom in their undertaking to avoid actions that lead to death and destruction.

Gender Parity: Which Way Parliament?

Posted by on 28th September 2020

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In an unprecedented and unexpected move, the Chief Justice, on 21st September 2020, sent out an advisory to the President, advising him to dissolve the Parliament for failure to ‘enact the legislation required to implement the two-thirds gender rule.’ The said rule, as provided for in the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, sought to cure a historical anomaly in gender participation in the country’s governance; both elective and appointive positions. Prior to the Advisory, a total of six petitions had been lodged with the Chief Justice, petitioning him to advise the President to dissolve the Parliament for failing to comply with four court orders that directed the Legislature to pass legislation to remedy the disparity. The said legislation would engender the realization of key Constitutional provisions, including; Article 27 (3) which provides that; ‘(W)omen and men have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social sphere.’; Article 81 (b), providing that ‘not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender’ and Article 100(a), providing that ‘Parliament shall enact legislation to promote the representation in Parliament of (a) women.’

The advisory has predictably divided opinion, with sections declaring support while others expressing reservation. Not long after the advisory was issued, the Speaker of the National Assembly issued a statement arguing that the advisory was unrealistic. The Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC), under the leadership of the National Assembly Speaker, resolved to challenge the advisory at the High Court. Yet others, including some sitting Members of Parliament and sections of the Civil Society, expressed support calling on the President to move with speed and dissolve the Parliament to allow for its reconstitution through a fresh election. Each side of the divide has sought to justify its respective position. Opponents of the advisory have for instance argued that there is no guarantee that going back to the election would return a gender compliant Parliament. Some suggest that such a move does in fact portend the risk of worsening the disparity, almost certainly at the expense of women. On the other hand, proponents argue that the Chief Justice’s move engenders constructive chaos that would prompt a serious look at securing redress. Further, they note that various models have been suggested before that could practically offer a solution to the problem.

Despite the differences and rifts occasioned by the September 21st advisory, one thing is at least undisputable; the constitution of the Parliament is non-compliant. Further, there is a broad understanding that moving forward, the society must embrace and mainstream real sense of inclusion that discriminates none on the basis of physical attributes, gender no less. As captured in the Constitution, discrimination, in any way, must be part of our fabric. It must forever be consigned to our past without any option of resuscitating it back to life. To achieve gender parity, we may be better guided by best practices outside our borders, where such aspirations have been brought to reality. Every ounce of effort must be geared toward the realization of the gender parity goal.

 

The Call for Respect for Mothers Should be Followed by Action

Posted by on 27th September 2020

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A video of a woman giving birth outside Pumwani Maternity Hospital recently surfaced on the internet resulting in immediate and justified uproar among Kenyans. While childbirth is meant to be a joyful moment celebrated by loved ones this poor lady and her newborn were stripped off their dignity by the hospital staff who turned them away. One would wonder whether this was the same country where a few days before the incident, numerous elected officials made public calls for decorum and respect for mothers following some political utterances made to that regard.

Is this respect for mothers something that only a few are privileged to experience? Article 28 of the Constitution states that “Every person has inherent dignity and the right to have that dignity respected and protected.” Why was this lady then denied this right through inhumane incident? Is the state of our healthcare services proving what we’ve known for a while, that our systems are effective for a select few? Further, Article 43(1)(a) also guarantees every Kenyan the highest attainable standard of health. How then are we treated to such unpleasant news 10 years after the passing of the Constitution?

It speaks to a certain level of negligence, incompetence and discrimination against Kenyans from disadvantaged backgrounds. Despite being a devolved function, health services continue to under-deliver for many Kenyans who depend on public facilities for their well-being. The Pumwani Maternity Hospital is not exactly new to controversy. Exactly two years back, Nairobi Governor Gideon Mbuvi ‘Sonko’ found 12 dead babies stuffed in boxes and plastic bags. He then called for an investigation as the hospital admitted to being overburdened and underfunded. However, not many reforms have taken place as the hospital’s capacity is still stretched thin in its capacity to handle the high number of patients from Nairobi county and its neighbours.

As it had been anticipated, the disruption brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic shifted all focus to the virus that has ravaged the globe and one of the side effects has been the rising number of other illnesses. Facilities like Pumwani Maternity Hospital had already been facing challenges of underfunding and understaffing which put them at a disadvantage once Covid-19 landed in the country. Once all government focus shifted to fighting the virus, some issues like the rising malaria cases started being observed which was telling on the leadership’s management of the virus and its impact on healthcare generally. As the government looks back on its progress against Covid-19 one of the key lessons they’ll take home is the need for effective management of diseases both of immediate and continuous nature to ensure that no Kenyan dies simply because they were not on the government radar.

Finally, the matter of government accountability is one that requires consistent nudging to ensure that satisfactory responses and steps are taken for Kenyans to get value for money. Since the transfer of the deed of functions from the Nairobi County government to the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS), Nairobi residents and those from neighbouring counties have hoped to receive better services. The road improvement projects undertaken by NMS initially gave an impression of improved services to Nairobi county residents, but the incident at Pumwani Hospital has cast doubts on whether the General Badi-led team has their priorities right. As it undertakes its oversight role on devolved units, Parliament particularly the Senate needs to ensure that the NMS undertakes prudent use of the resources allocated under them for proper service delivery to all Kenyans regardless of class.

Parliament Remains Crucial in Protecting and Defending Democracy

Posted by on 19th September 2020

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Tuesday, September 15th 2020 marked the International Day of Democracy when people globally reflected and celebrated the milestones of democratic governance in different jurisdictions. Mzalendo Trust in partnership with the Ghana-based Parliamentary Network Africa and the support of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) brought together Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations (PMOs) from across the continent to share their unique experiences particularly in the Covid-19 context.

Across the region, governments responded in a similar manner with PMOs noting the loud silence by Parliament, the Executive’s dominance and the importance of parliamentary monitoring by the civil society and the public. The conversation on democracy could not have been timelier.

Responses and reactions by governments across the world have seen rights and freedoms being threatened and violated, legal procedures bypassed and a top-down, opaque flow of information approach being adopted by leadership. A question arising on where oversight bodies have been as all this unfolds. Parliaments being critical oversight institutions have in turn been put on the spot as far as holding the Executive and government agencies accountable.

In Kenya, it will be remembered that Parliament quickly adjourned sittings in March upon the confirmation of a positive case in the country. In an effort to contain the spread of the virus, the Executive issued a number of directives concerning economic cushioning, movement of persons and interaction of people in public spaces. Parliament then had to work backwards where upon resumption of sittings legislators were put to task with expediting the legal framework for these directives. In addition to this the Ministries and government agencies had to urgently procure protective equipment and in the process contravened procurement laws and procedures. In the absence of Parliamentary oversight, these procedures presented opportunities for mismanagement of funds that were meant to be utilized to fight the virus. It didn’t take too long before allegations of corruption emerged.

Pressure is now piling on the parliamentary committees to uncover the theft and recover the stolen funds to ensure the Kenyan taxpayer does not get a raw deal as has been the norm.

The conversation on oversight and accountability not only focuses on preventive frameworks but also whistleblowing. Alternative voices namely; media and civil society carry a fair share of responsibility in protecting democracy and keeping government in check. The lack of a robust opposition in the Kenyan parliament has left the responsibility of whistleblowing to the media and CSOs. The fourth estate has been on the post for regurgitating the government narrative on the pandemic and failing to ask tough questions while they should. The pandemic has indeed disrupted most sectors that are now playing catch up.

Adapt or die is the choice that different players in governance have now. Parliament seems to have adopted the former with the adjustments in sitting arrangements in the chambers and use of technology in conducting sittings to ensure they deliver on their mandate to legislate, represent and conduct oversight. This is a move that PMOs highly encouraged for posterity to ensure that government institutions are always a step ahead.

To protect democracy, the task cannot be left to Parliament alone. Media and civil society should step up to ensure the voice of the citizen is not silenced and more importantly to watch the watchdog.

 

This blog piece was initially uploaded on 15th September 2020.

Parliament Resumes with A Great Task Ahead

Posted by on 19th September 2020

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As Parliament resumes sittings this week a big task lies ahead to get as much legislative work done as possible before the end of the last part of the fourth session. Compared to the 11th House, the 12th Parliament is currently falling behind in terms of number of laws passed within a term. Indeed, the global Coronavirus pandemic disrupted the operations of many government institutions. In the case of Parliament standing orders had to be amended to accommodate the new sitting arrangements in the Parliament chambers and usage of virtual means to transact house and committee business.

That notwithstanding, the slow pace of passage of bills was and still is an issue. The National Assembly has on several occasions been accused of shelving and delaying the debate and passage of bills originating from the Senate that require concurrence from the National Assembly. In other cases, Senate bills have ‘died’ in the custody of the National Assembly only for similar bills to resurface with the sponsors originating from the National Assembly later on.

A great example is the Public Participation Bill, 2018 that was sponsored by Busia Senator Amos Wako. The Bill sought to provide a framework to effect public participation as that is a provision of the Constitution. However, it did not proceed any further only for a similar bill sponsored by Kiminini MP Chris Wamalwa to resurface later. The bill is yet to be passed despite it being crucial in guiding citizens’ engagement in law making. The importance of this bill cannot be overemphasize. It would in fact be interesting to see amendments made to the Bill that will provide for effective virtual public participation where physical gatherings are impossible to undertake.

It is also clear to most Kenyans that the country has ushered in the campaigning period. Despite the restrictions that came with the pandemic, political leaders have started rallying for public support on the Building Bridges Initiative. Those pro-BBI have been pushing the agenda to amend the Constitution through a referendum while those opposed to it insist that the Constitution is yet to be fully implemented to warrant a referendum. However, certain technicalities in executing a referendum need to be addressed first. The conversation on a referendum vote cannot be had without considering electoral mechanics. Several electoral laws are yet to be enacted to enable Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to conduct a referendum or an election for that matter.

Among the pending bills is one to establish a procedure for recruitment of IEBC commissioners following the vacancies occasioned by the resignation of four commissioners. To also address the heated nature of Kenyan elections there is also a need to come up with laws that ensure free and fair elections come 2022. All of this has to be done in the fastest possible as Prof Abdi Guliye, one of the three remaining commissioners at IEBC, notes that the laws need to be enacted at least 24 months before the general election to allow for ample time for the commission to prepare for polls.

While it may seem like a daunting task ahead, Parliament through its leadership can expedite the key bills before going on long recess. During the third session of the National Assembly leadership forum, majority leader Amos Kimunya made two proposals that may end the rivalry between the two houses and in turn FastTrack the enactment of Bills. Kimunya asked that the leadership of Parliament explores the idea of co-sponsorship of Bills, particularly ‘money’ bills. This, he says, will prevent Senate bills going to waste in cases where they appear to contravene the Constitution.

The second proposal he made was that the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC) fast-tracks the Mediation Bill with a view to progressively enact an alternative dispute resolution mechanism and to avoid litigation between the two Houses. It’s now up to the Parliament leadership to ensure this period counts before going on long recess.

 

This blog piece was initially uploaded on 8th September 2020.