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

Posted by on 2nd October 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?