“If I don’t promise my people roads, bridges, hospitals and schools, I won’t be elected as an MP,” said nominated Senator Abshiro Halake during Civic Awareness Research that was launched last week. Perhaps this marks the origin of the mismatch between legislators’ constitutional mandate against the public’s perception and expectations of them.
In reality, lawmakers’ output which is mainly measured by the policies and laws passed may not be as appealing as that of the executive in both national and county government level that is heavily measured on the number of development projects brought to life. Kenyan MPs are yet to translate their roles into a palatable form of development that their citizenry can and should yearn for. As the Senator would explain, when a legislator is met with the pushback of “I can’t eat laws”, they easily cave and copy the manifesto of the executive which then comes back to bite them at the next ballot over failing to deliver their promise.
The report further reveals that MPs are evidently victims and perpetuators of the Big Man Syndrome. “They love to show up in convoys and awe the public”, Churchill Suba noted during the launch which then sets the precedence of the public’s dependency on leaders to meet their individual personal needs. Attesting to these personal demands by Kenyans, not a day goes by without Mzalendo receiving a call or message directed to one of the MPs concerning medical emergencies, school or business needs. Bringing to fore the misunderstanding of MPs’ mandate. During our interactions with our representatives, most of us have been guilty of using a self-serving approach that is problematic as the results borne out of those interactions are short-sighted and less impactful. We’re then challenged to see the bigger picture and bring the attention of our lawmakers to ailing systems that require their intervention in the form of laws that will provide the framework upon which, say, healthcare across the country will improve.
On the matter of MPs being victims of the Big Man Syndrome, this came to light through the stories that have been told numerous times on various media. First, the very same manifestos they float during campaigns become the guillotine that is used for their public execution. Failure to fulfil these promises that are beyond their mandate makes them subject to criticism. The task, therefore, falls on the media to educate the public on the actual mandate of the MPs, investigate whether they are effective in their respective roles and give a breakdown of how laws passed affect the livelihood of a Kenyan. It is through these stories that citizens will then start relating the law-making process to better lives. As Ms Halake would explain, “both MPs and media need to make people understand that if I sponsor a law that states every town has to have enough street lighting, this will mean longer hours of business for people and a thriving economy. Isn’t that better than handouts?”
A proper grasp of legislators’ mandate, gives us more insight when we hold them to account. Where we get an understanding that their stance on pertinent issues brought to the floor of the House matter more than their contributions in harambees. If anything, these harambees encourage a “Messiah mentality” that is not progressive.
“If you look at a governor like Sonko, why would he continue to have his rescue team and yet he’s a governor and other Members of Parliament who continue to run their private foundations yet they have their CDF kitty. So it is an egg and hen situation because if you do not do it someone else will so we become victims of this vicious cycle, but it has to be broken at some point and that is why I really value President Kibaki because he had stopped that nonsense of harambees. Harambees will never develop the country”, said Senator Isaac Mwaura during his interview with Mzalendo, on the matter of MPs’ allowances and citizens’ demands. Food for thought?