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.