The National Assembly went on short recess on Thursday, August 19th 2021. During the proceedings a total of six petitions, five statements and 35 questions were raised on the floor of the House. Out of the 35 questions asked by Members of Parliament, three of them raised concerns on the lack implementation or operationalization of certain laws or projects despite being given the green light three to four years ago.
A question directed to the Cabinet Secretary for Health by Kwale Woman Representative, Hon. Zuleikha Hassan sought answers as to why the National Coroners Service Act that was passed and assented to in 2017 was yet to be implemented. The Act provided for the role of a coroner-general that would be tasked with investigating all deaths arising in police custody, military and lawful custody. In the case of reportable deaths in police custody, the coroner-general would hand over the findings to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) for appropriate action. The application of this law would prove crucial in accelerating access to justice to many young people and their families who have died in the hands of law enforcement.
It’s not too long ago that two young brothers hailing from Embu, Benson Njiru and Emmanuel Mutura, died after sustaining serious injuries following their arrest for flouting the curfew rules. Initially the police officers in Kianjokoma claimed that the two young men got injured and died after jumping off a moving police car. An autopsy report would later prove this claim to be false. The absence of a coroner-general, four years after the passing of the law, presents a gap that is likely to be abused by law-breaking officers who may attempt to cover their tracks as was the case for the Kianjokoma brothers.
The question begs then, why has Parliament – a law-making and oversight institution – been unaware of the status of this law knowing full well the history of Kenya and extra-judicial killings? Why has the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government failed to appoint a coroner-general, as is provided for by the Act and how did Parliament miss this? Who watches the watchdog? These pertinent issues bring to the fore the need for effective oversight by Parliament, a critical role spelt out in the Constitution for the institution.
Two other questions by Githunguri MP Gabriel Kago and Awendo MP Walter Owino sought answers with regards to the delayed commencement of a road project and delayed operationalization of administrative units both flagged off in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Such projects falling through the cracks over a significant period potentially disempower the constituents who should be enjoying the benefits of proper public services and infrastructural development.
To some extent, regime changes occasioned by general elections have presented a possibility where projects started under the leadership of a different leader escape the attention of the newly elected. Perhaps this was the case for Hon. Kago who replaced Peter Njoroge Baiya after the 2017 polls. Even then, this should not be used to excuse the newly elected members as they’re expected to get acquainted with everything that has to do with their constituency.
These weaknesses in Parliament’s oversight role as an institution and at an individual member level threaten to deny taxpayers’ their money’s worth, delay access to justice to those who may seek it and delay the country’s development vision under umbrellas such as Vision 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A proper handover mechanism, either at constituency or county level, is necessary to prevent neglect of ongoing projects that mwananchi needs in the event there is a regime change. This should also be applied at committee level to ensure that the Executive is kept on its toes even when a new crop of legislators is elected and nominated to the house next year.