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.