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.

Parliamentary Committees Should Step up and Deliver Their Mandate

Posted by on 1st September 2020

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During his 11th and most recent public address regarding the status of Covid-19 in Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered that the investigations into the alleged loss of public funds meant to fight Covid-19 be concluded in 21 days. While pressure is mounting on the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to produce names, prosecute and convict the guilty, Parliament is under pressure to live up to their oversight expectations.

A bulk of the oversight conducted by both Houses of Parliament is undertaken through committees that are established under Article 124 of the Constitution. These committees, according to the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act, 2017, have the powers to invite or summon any person to appear before them for the purpose of giving evidence or providing any information they may have. It is also under this Act and Article 125 of the Constitution that parliamentary committees have the power of a High Court and with all powers, privileges and immunities to act as such which is fundamental in ensuring that Parliament executes the quasi-judicial functions assigned to it under the Constitution.

Committees are also important because they allow for the division of labour on different issues. This is especially where having a full House session would cause more delays and lengthy timelines. They allow for deeper investigations into matters in question and hearing of evidence before finally reporting to the entire House.

On Friday, August 28th 2020, the suspended Kemsa CEO, Mr Jonah Manjari appeared before a joint sitting of the Senate Health Committee and Senate ad-hoc Committee on Covid-19 in Kenya alongside the Kemsa board Chairman, Mr Kembi Gitura to answer to questions regarding the alleged misappropriation of billions at the agency. The heated session between the committee members and the two would end in fingers pointing at the top two officials at the Ministry of Health after the embattled CEO admitted to receiving instructions regarding the procurement of medical equipment tenders. This would lead to the Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe and his Principal Secretary Susan Mochache being summoned by committees from both the Senate and National Assembly to answer to these questions.

Should the two fail to appear before the committees, legislators will have the power to impose a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand shillings and/or order their arrest as is stated in the Parliamentary Privileges Act, 2017. The question, however, is whether these committee hearings will yield favourable results for Kenyans as many question the effectiveness of various instruments of justice in Kenya.

Parliamentary committees have previously been condemned for not giving Kenyans value for money especially considering the kind of allowances that committee sittings attract. A great example would be the NYS saga that was probed by the Public Accounts Committee that was at the time chaired by former Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo. Despite the attention the scandal attracted and the weeks of sittings that were aired on TV, no convictions have been made to date. A fate that Kenyans fear will befall the Covid-millionaires scandal.

But does the fault really only fall on committees? Committees continue to face a number of challenges in undertaking their mandate.

A common one is the insubordination by government officials who have on several occasions ignored the invitations by committees. The Cabinet Secretary for Interior, Fred Matiang’i has been put on the spot for failing to appear before the ad-hoc committee on Covid-19 on a number of occasions where he was meant to answer to questions on violations of human rights by police officers while enforcing the dusk-to-dawn curfew. Instead, Dr Matiang’i has been represented by his juniors against the displeasure of the committee members.

Another challenge we are likely to see in the coming weeks is the duplication of roles. The Kemsa scandal has attracted the attention of three committees from the National Assembly and two from the Senate namely; Public Accounts Committee, Public Investments Committee, National Assembly’s Health Committee, Senate’s Health Committee and Senate’s ad-hoc Committee on Covid-19 in Kenya. For the next few weeks, health officials will be required to appear before these committees, answer to the same questions and present the same evidence. Perhaps the Senate and National Assembly leadership should consider bringing together their efforts since the common goal is to trace the stolen Covid-19 monies.

Access to information and time constraints have proven to be crucial impediments to committees concluding their business. The Select committee formed in September 2019 to probe the Sh 63 billion Medical Equipment Scheme (MES) has on several occasions requested an extension of the term limit to conclude their investigation and table a comprehensive report. The committee chaired by Isiolo Senator Fatuma Dullo cited complexities in their investigations that involved high profile players who by omission or commission, bungled the ambitious healthcare programme. As Senate resumes sittings this September, will the Dullo-led committee finally give Kenyans answers on MES a year after the Senate voted to establish this committee?

Will public trust in Parliament and its oversight role be restored in the coming weeks or will Kenyans again feel like they got the shorter end of the stick after millions have been spent on sittings that didn’t come to a favourable conclusion?

A Decade Later, The Constitution Still Has a Long Way to Go

Posted by on 25th August 2020

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27th August 2020 will mark exactly 10 years since a jubilant crowd of Kenyans filling up Nairobi’s Uhuru Park witnessed the then President Mwai Kibaki lift the new Constitution. This moment came after years and years of a consistent push for a change in the law.

The 2010 Constitution compared to the repealed law was premised on change. It recognized the sovereignty of the people, spelt out the national values and principles of governance, gave an elaborate bill of rights, outlined the principles of leadership and integrity, had a vision on inclusiveness and gender parity and clearly separated powers between the various arms of government.

It was not until 2013, when a new government was voted in, that the devolved system of governance began taking shape. Since then, many have attested to the benefits of devolved services and the development it has brought in return. It is within these past seven years that counties, particularly those in marginalized regions, have recorded milestones in their service delivery. Turkana County, for instance, recorded its first surgical operation last year, an achievement that would have taken much longer to attain under the old centralized system.

The Constitution, in text, planted a seed of optimism that would see a significant shift in the quality of governance, public participation and service delivery. However, it has fallen short of expectation in its implementation. Unfortunately, the past 10 years have been tainted by mass looting and mismanagement of public resources, conflicts between the government and independent government agencies, supremacy battles between the national and county governments and an archaic culture of secrecy that characterized the repealed constitution.

Constitutional reforms are yet to translate into systemic reforms. This has proven to be true particularly in the recent months that the country has been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. To curb the spread of the virus the government enforced a number of preventive measures. Kenyans, however, did not anticipate the rise in violation of human rights by the police force and loved ones with the enforcement of these regulations. This piles on to the already existing burden of poor healthcare systems. As Scheaffer Okore put it in an article, Corona drove a chisel into our system cracks.

Prior to the news of a positive Covid-19 patient in Kenya, the Senate through a special committee was in the process of probing the Managed Medical Equipment System that has been marred with controversy from the onset. In 2019, the National Hospital Insurance Fund was at the centre of a scandal as it emerged that the fund could have lost more than Ksh. 10 billion in false claims. The mobile clinics that intended to address the gaps in health facilities in select counties, still remain unused despite costing the taxpayer about Ksh 800 million. This and more paint a grim picture of the ailing healthcare system that we have been dealing with for years.

Article 43 of the Constitution grants every Kenyan the right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to healthcare services, including reproductive health care. Section (2) of the same article provides that a person shall not be denied emergency medical treatment. But as the popular sheng phrase goes, Vitu Kwa Ground ni Different. Enough Kenyans have been turned away by both private and public hospitals for lack of funds. Others have watched their loved ones slowly ail to death or come out of the health facilities scarred for life over negligence or with the burden of paying hospitals bills in the millions.

Even with this grim reality, the corrupt are still going about their business enriching themselves with Covid-related funds. This is a matter of great concern for Kenyans and the civil society who have voiced their displeasure with the mismanagement of funds at the cost of Kenyans’ lives. There truly is no honour among thieves and that is why it is critical for the oversight bodies to hold the government to account and bring perpetrators to book. While Mzalendo Trust and other members of the civil society called out the theft committed against Kenyans, a lot more needs to be done by the various arms of government to stand by the Constitution that majority of us voted in favour for.

Members of Parliament right now have the herculean task to prove to be more than political mouthpieces and undertake their oversight role with diligence and integrity. Taming corruption cannot be left to ‘karma’ when there are procedures that can regain stolen taxpayer money and bring the culprits to book. This is not the vision that Kenyans had when the deafening noise filled Uhuru Park. Provisions on transparency accountability and the entire Chapter 6 need to be followed to the letter and those in contravention should be charged before a court of law. The spirit of the Constitution of Kenya needs to be upheld and respected to attain its true purpose.

The Independence of Parliament is Paramount and Must Be Safeguarded

Posted by on 17th August 2020

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For the last couple of weeks, the Senate of the Republic of Kenya has been engaged in an unprecedentedly protracted debate on the revenue sharing formula among the 47 counties. The issue has divided the Senate right down the middle, with two camps emerging, championing two rival positions. On the one hand, there is a team, christened Team Kenya, that is opposed to the formula as presented by the Senate’s Finance and Budget committee, which in their considered view, would take away allocation from ‘marginalized to more resourced counties’. On the other hand, are senators, who while pushing for the adoption of the formula, argue that resource allocation should accord greater weight to population. The latter’s rallying call is ‘one man one vote one shilling.’ The effort to pass the formula has increasingly become synonymous with drama and intense strategizing and counter-strategizing between the two camps. Delay tactics, including the introduction of multiple amendments, have been variously deployed to protract the debate in the hope that each of the two rival camps would have their way.

On Friday last week (14th August), the Speaker gazetted Monday 17th as a day for the Senate’s special sitting to debate the contested formula. Over the weekend leading up to the day, reports emerged of some Senators being targeted for arrest ostensibly for their perceived opposition to the Finance and Budget Committee’s proposed formula. At the morning session of the special sitting, an adjournment motion was moved to have the proceedings adjourned, with concerns being raised over the whereabouts of some Senators then not present in the House. On the floor of the House, some members reported that Senator Lelegwe Ltumbisi (Samburu), Senator Cleophas Malala (Kakamega) and Senator Christopher Langat (Bomet) had been arrested. The motion was passed unanimously.

The development raises some serious concerns over the independence of the various institutions and in particular that of the Parliament. The Constitution crafts a governance system anchored on the separation of powers and checks and balances. Each of the three arms, viz. the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary, is constitutionally shielded from each other’s interference and undue influence. The events of the last few days, where Senators are reported to have been subject to arrest by the police, are therefore not only troubling but also an affront to the independence of the Senate. The Senators, as elected and nominated representatives, have a responsibility to safeguard the interests of their respective constituencies first and foremost. They owe their allegiance to the people. They are thus duty-bound to articulate their interests even if it means that such interests go contrary to any other entity’s, including other arms of government.

It is in this context that any attempt to unfairly influence the decision of Legislators must be viewed as reprehensible and as such condemned. The country’s history is littered with painful experiences of oppressive systems. As a matter of fact, it is such experiences that inspired the agitation for reforms that culminated in the passage of the current Constitution. No effort must be spared to safeguard the gains thus far made. It was, therefore, encouraging to see the Senate unanimously agree to shield itself from the unwarranted intrusion by external forces.