As Parliament resumes sittings this week a big task lies ahead to get as much legislative work done as possible before the end of the last part of the fourth session. Compared to the 11th House, the 12th Parliament is currently falling behind in terms of number of laws passed within a term. Indeed, the global Coronavirus pandemic disrupted the operations of many government institutions. In the case of Parliament standing orders had to be amended to accommodate the new sitting arrangements in the Parliament chambers and usage of virtual means to transact house and committee business.
That notwithstanding, the slow pace of passage of bills was and still is an issue. The National Assembly has on several occasions been accused of shelving and delaying the debate and passage of bills originating from the Senate that require concurrence from the National Assembly. In other cases, Senate bills have ‘died’ in the custody of the National Assembly only for similar bills to resurface with the sponsors originating from the National Assembly later on.
A great example is the Public Participation Bill, 2018 that was sponsored by Busia Senator Amos Wako. The Bill sought to provide a framework to effect public participation as that is a provision of the Constitution. However, it did not proceed any further only for a similar bill sponsored by Kiminini MP Chris Wamalwa to resurface later. The bill is yet to be passed despite it being crucial in guiding citizens’ engagement in law making. The importance of this bill cannot be overemphasize. It would in fact be interesting to see amendments made to the Bill that will provide for effective virtual public participation where physical gatherings are impossible to undertake.
It is also clear to most Kenyans that the country has ushered in the campaigning period. Despite the restrictions that came with the pandemic, political leaders have started rallying for public support on the Building Bridges Initiative. Those pro-BBI have been pushing the agenda to amend the Constitution through a referendum while those opposed to it insist that the Constitution is yet to be fully implemented to warrant a referendum. However, certain technicalities in executing a referendum need to be addressed first. The conversation on a referendum vote cannot be had without considering electoral mechanics. Several electoral laws are yet to be enacted to enable Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to conduct a referendum or an election for that matter.
Among the pending bills is one to establish a procedure for recruitment of IEBC commissioners following the vacancies occasioned by the resignation of four commissioners. To also address the heated nature of Kenyan elections there is also a need to come up with laws that ensure free and fair elections come 2022. All of this has to be done in the fastest possible as Prof Abdi Guliye, one of the three remaining commissioners at IEBC, notes that the laws need to be enacted at least 24 months before the general election to allow for ample time for the commission to prepare for polls.
While it may seem like a daunting task ahead, Parliament through its leadership can expedite the key bills before going on long recess. During the third session of the National Assembly leadership forum, majority leader Amos Kimunya made two proposals that may end the rivalry between the two houses and in turn FastTrack the enactment of Bills. Kimunya asked that the leadership of Parliament explores the idea of co-sponsorship of Bills, particularly ‘money’ bills. This, he says, will prevent Senate bills going to waste in cases where they appear to contravene the Constitution.
The second proposal he made was that the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC) fast-tracks the Mediation Bill with a view to progressively enact an alternative dispute resolution mechanism and to avoid litigation between the two Houses. It’s now up to the Parliament leadership to ensure this period counts before going on long recess.
This blog piece was initially uploaded on 8th September 2020.