It is exactly 14 days since Parliament adjourned sittings in the wake of Coronavirus in Kenya. In those 14 days, the number of positive cases has shot up from four persons to 50. An average of 3.5 new infections per day.
In those 14 days, Parliamentarians have been called out, deservedly, for abdicating their role when the country needed them most. There has never been a better time for Parliament to dispense its mandate like now when the country and the world threatens to come to a halt. The legislative, oversight and budgeting mandate as stated in Article 94 of the Constitution is what may be the saving grace for Kenya.
While it is evident that the virus is waging a war against the country, the commitment of our leaders to stand up to it is questionable. Parliament quickly resorted to adjourn sittings at a time when the country badly needs interventions in Kenya’s grim reality. Not to say that the MPs are immune to the virus but it was disheartening to see that the legislators failed to explore other options and instead chose to retreat to their homes and rant online like the rest of Kenyans.
Regardless of the prevailing conditions in the country and the guidelines relating to the control of the spread of the COVID-19 virus the public expectation from their members of parliament for representation and oversight is still on the rise. Kenyans are looking to Parliament to ensure accountability of public resources during this period through established systems like the parliamentary committees. These committees would be expected to play a pivotal role in resource allocation as a response to the virus at national and county level.
Parliament through its oversight role should be holding the Ministry of Health to account to ensure that proper adequate measures are being put in place at both national and county level. Additionally, Parliament should ensure that Wanjiku is fed with the truth and stops any attempts to downplay the actual situation in a bid to stop panic. Furthermore, it is at such times that Parliament stands in the gap and comes up with legislation that shields the citizen from the socio-economic implications of such a pandemic.
It is well known that power easily shifts into the wrong hands during panic and crises, and it becomes incredibly difficult to claim it back even when the dark cloud has lifted. A situation like the one imposed on us by the virus also exposes how much corruption has robbed from Kenyans. Without a robust oversight body, we are bound to lose more in the coming months.
Now 14 days since adjourning their sittings, Speaker Kenneth Lusaka will be reconvening the Senate to discuss the raft of measures proposed by President Uhuru Kenyatta in response to the public outcry on the recent changes that are negatively impacting Wanjiku. In true Kenyan fashion, we are playing catch up while other countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, and Germany have expedited legislation that brings to life the aid packages that protect businesses and people in this crisis.
The loud silence by Parliament is worrying considering the drastic changes Kenyans have been subjected to. The reality is, we are faced with a pandemic when the country is running low on food and other resources. Another reality is, the medical resources we have (both equipment and personnel) will not be able to match the rate at which the virus threatens to spread. We could be looking at an economic shutdown if we choose not to respond to these issues fast enough. Kenyans are calling for preemptive legislation rather than reactions to a dire situation.
So the question will be, can Wanjiku count on Parliament as they reconvene today to make up for the lost time and come up with resolutions that will work for her good in the face of this virus?