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Policy vs. Politics

Posted by on 17th March 2011

Categories: 2012 Elections Members of Parliament News

By Mzalendo Contributor – Moreen Majiwa (@mmajiwa)

To be honest I cannot remember who started the war of words but the clip of the Prime saying this has been replayed on the TV for near two weeks, suspended Higher Education Minister William Ruto and Deputy Prime Minister/Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta responded in kind with a verbal volley own. This week, yesterday in fact, Makadara MP Gideon Mbuvi challenged the Prime Minister to a popularity contest in Nairobi. It sounds ludicrous but its true, a popularity contest.

Popularity contest aside, at one point the verbal exchange between the Deputy Prime Minister/Minister of Finance Uhuru Kenyatta, Suspended Higher Education Minister William Ruto and the Prime Minister Raila Odinga became so bad that the three drew censure from the National Cohesion and Integration Commission.

Not only is the political jockeying divisive it is also distracting the public from questioning the substantive policies that have been brought to the table. It is also detracting from implementation of the constitution, establishment of constitutionally mandated bodies i.e. the new boundaries and electoral commission, the Supreme Court and its holding up judicial and police reform.

In fact with regards to the setting up of the independent boundaries and electoral commission, and making election management laws to conduct the eight kinds of polls for central and county governments in 2012, Mutula Kilonzo the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs stated:

‘At the current pace, it will be a very hard task to come up with all these institutions, set in motion the process of vetting and appointing and conduct nationwide civic education about how the new electoral institutions work before the next elections’

The impact of the emphasis political posturing to the detriment of policy is not only felt at the national level but also at constituency level. From the Mzalendo Vox Pops it’s apparent that political posturing and partisan politics is not only detracting from the development at a national level but also at constituency level.

Give us policy not politics, policies are what actually affect the lives of the average citizen. By focusing on policy we can ignore the hype, the negative spin and personality battles that are distracting us from the real issue which is what are our elected officials do to improve the lives of every day Kenyans.

Is the Kenyan Cabinet the institution most in need of a purge?

Posted by on 12th January 2011

Categories: Members of Parliament Ministries News

By Mzalendo Contributor – Moreen Majiwa (@mmajiwa)

If recent headlines are anything to go by the current Cabinet is a haven for (alleged) criminals:

  • Three High-Level Cabinet officials, the suspended Industrialisation Minister, the suspended Higher Education Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister/Minister of Finance and the Head of the civil service are adversely named in the ICC Kenya case.
  • Two of those named by the ICC prosecutor also have cases in the domestic courts the Industrialisation Minister for abuse of office, and the suspended Higher Education Minister for fraud.
  • The Minster for Foreign Affairs is currently on suspension pending the outcome of investigations of financial irregularities in the procurement of the Kenyan Embassies abroad.
  • The Water Minister is also under investigation for irregular allocation of contracts in the Water Ministry.
  • The Assistant Minister for Water is facing criminal charges for incitement.
  • The Ministry of Special Programmes has been adversely mentioned in relation to misappropriation of funds meant for settling the IDPs.
  • The Ministry of Education has been cited for misappropriation of funds meant for free primary education.
  • Suspended Trade Assistant Minister Harun Mwau and the Minister for Internal Security have both been adversely named in connection with drug trafficking.
  • And just yesterday the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission announced that an additional four ministers could face corruption charges by the end of this month.

And the list above covers only the most recent allegations of corruptions.  Many  previous cases of corruption remain pending e.g. Goldenberg, Triton, and Anglo-Leasing. Yet a surprising number of those linked with corruption cases both old and new remain in Cabinet. The reaction of the country’s leadership to the allegations of corruption has been disappointing to say the least.

Instead of a moving to reform a cabinet that seems engrossed in crime and impunity, there appears to be a move to dig in and stay put.

As Kenyans we must ask ourselves, is this the kind of leadership we deserve?

Parliamentary Pupilage Program for recent law graduates

Posted by on 25th November 2010

Categories: News

Deadline is tomorrow  – Friday November 26, 2010 but better late than never. 🙂

Click here for details.

Visiting Parliament without a pass

Posted by on 19th November 2010

Categories: Citizen Engagement News

By Mzalendo Contributor  – Moreen Majiwa (@mmajiwa)

I was apprehensive about the prospect of going to parliament without a pass signed by a MP – the pink pass is like a special key, it soothes attitudes and opens doors.   On my last visit I had taken out the pass way before I got to parliament  – salutes were given, card keys swiped, and a personal escort given all the way to the Speaker’s Gallery.   I anticipated that without the pass the experience would be vastly different. My friends, the same ones that had been less than encouraging the last visit, concurred with enthusiastic mockery ‘gate crashing sounds fun and if you get chucked out you’ll have something interesting to write about.’

Having made the decision to go parliament sans pass I decided to take it all the way – dress casual and see how easy it is for the regular ‘watus’ to get in.  I wore the uniform for people my age skinny jeans and a shirt-dress. I did carry a blazer in case there was dress code for parliament the blazer and dark coloured jeans could pass for a crude suit.  There isn’t a dress code I learned,  but formal is best.

Being more familiar with the protocol, and having checked the parliamentary timetable on the Bunge website, I got to the gate at 2 pm, 30 minutes before the start of session.  A carefully chosen time, if any hitch occurred I had adequate time to either charm and or argue my way into parliament, charm being the strategy of choice – but was ready to either or both.

It turned out that I didn’t need to do either!  I walked through the main gate, with no problems at all.  The second entrance is a smaller portal, the entry in to the parliament building is very funnel-like, a wide main entry point, a narrower second entry portal with a body scanner and a conveyor belt, and finally a revolving gate which needs you to swipe a your visitors card before you can access the parliamentary building inside the gated area.

The guard at the second entry point is a lot more intimidating than those at the main gate.  I introduced myself to the guard, used to the nonplussed silent stares of government officers I was surprised when he introduced himself back, his name was Charles…he was no-nonsense and very polite at the same time. I told him I wanted to sit in and listen to the parliamentary proceedings.  He asked for my ID and issued me with a visitors pass, checked my handbag and asked me to put it through the scanner and then to leave it at the baggage area.   If you don’t like leaving your bags in public places you’re advised not to carry one.

There is a slight difference between viewing sessions from the  Speaker’s gallery versus  the Public gallery. In the Speaker’s Gallery you face speaker and can see the whole house. The Public gallery is positioned above the Speaker so you can’t see him and your view of the front of the house is constrained. Though the Public Gallery is a lot less comfortable than that in the Speaker’s gallery the experience of being in parliament is no less exhilarating and I’d still recommend a visit. It is relatively easy to get in all you need is your ID and the interest.

On a (suprisingly) inspiring visit to Parliament…and why you should try it.

Posted by on 29th October 2010

Categories: Citizen Engagement MP Participation News Vox Pop

BY MZALENDO CONTRIBUTOR – Moreen Majiwa @moreenmaj

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of visiting our National Assembly. I am ashamed to admit that the last time I did this was as part of a mandatory primary school visit.  That was so long ago I can’t recall the details. Excited about my impending parliamentary visit I told a few of my friends about it.  My excitement was met with awkward silences followed by blank stares and the inevitable, “Why don’t you just watch the proceedings on KBC, besides how are you going to get in?”

Under this steady attack I found myself, an only one-time visitor to our National Assembly becoming its staunchest defender and activist-in-chief for citizen visits to parliament. It appears my peers are trapped in a cycle of political apathy and cynicism.  Some have given up the good fight as it were and are simply getting on with it.  Others complain about everything under the sun from traffic to
poor leadership, lament about the uselessness of making demands to our government and then get on with it.

As was pointed out severally KBC does stream parliamentary proceedings in real-time, which is a huge improvement over previous years where the Hansard and newspapers were pretty much the only way for members of the public to glean what was going on in Parliament.  In addition, thanks to technology, we can keep up with the latest news through online newspapers, blogs, facebook and twitter.   So the idea of visiting Parliament in person seems pretty redundant.

The problem with accessing the goings on in the Parliment through different forms of media is that you only see, read or hear what is presented to you. The content is shot, cut, packaged and presented to us.  A live in-person visit has a different quality there is an energy that is almost palpable.  You get to see the
whole show uncensored version of the good, the bad and the ugly.

So once I decided to visit Parliament, I realized that I had no idea whether I could show up or needed something special to get in.  After a few calls I found out that I would need a pass to get in, and this pass is usually organized by a sitting MP. Going to the gate and trying my luck with the security officers, had little
appeal, and since I didn’t know any MPs personally I sent out  e-mails to my contacts who I hoped would help me connect to someone who could assist with a pass.   I got lucky and got a pass organized, but couldn’t help wondering whether the process of attending a session couldn’t be a bit more straight forward (apparently you can just show up but your ability to get in depends on the security personnel you encounter that day).

I arrived at the gates of parliament precisely at 9:00 am only to find that the session did not start till 2.30 pm (note to self-check out to find out the parliamentary timetable next time).

I had low expectations mainly due to the poor portrayal of our leaders in the media.  Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter such lively debate (although the fact that it was the Wetangula report being discussed might have contributed to some of the energy). I got see that some  MPs
really did fight the corner of their constituents valiantly, and wondered whether the media couldn’t do a better job of not just focusing on the negative aspects of MPs but also showcasing those who do work and the fact that a lot of other business is dealt with in parliament.

For those whose expectations of our parliamentarians are at an all time low, it may be time to stop being so pessimistic, to take a visit to parliament; it may inspire you to increase your expectations and make a demand or two of our leaders while you’re at it.

Raising the Bar for MP party nominations – what the Mike Sonko saga reveals.

Posted by on 8th October 2010

Categories: Members of Parliament MP Profile News

By Mzalendo Contributor – Moreen Majiwa

Headlines of outstanding warrants for fraud and forgery, questionable accumulation of wealth, and the recent road rage incident continue to haunt MP for Makadara the Honorable Mr Gideon Mbuvi Kioko aka ‘Mike Sonko’.  These allegations whether true or not begs the question how political parties nominate people to run for the much coveted post of Member of Parliament. With the exception of the requirement for popularity, what are the criteria by which parties use to nominate potential MPs?

Reading the headlines on the Makadara MP one would be hard pressed to believe that any vetting process takes place at all. If there is a vetting process it must not be at all rigorous, as how would one with skeletons practically hanging out of the closet get past even the most perfunctory vetting process?

In the morass of political venality and opportunism, the old dispensation presented ample room for manipulation by allowing direct nominations and hand picking of candidates by political parties with little consultation of citizens. However lets not harp on about the past, the election has taken place and the Honorable Mr Gideon Mbuvi Kioko aka ‘Mike Sonko’ has been elected to the Makadara seat.  Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt – some are already calling him the peoples MP. Let’s say for arguments sake that some vetting process was carried out and indeed Mike Sonko did pass the requisite background check. Not only will we be expecting to keep the promise he made upon winning the Makadara seat i.e. ‘I will honour all the promises I made to you when I was campaigning. I will continue standing by the people of Makadara and will continue being development-conscious, my main focus still remains ridding this constituency of poverty.”

We will be expecting him, his newly elected counter parts and the already sitting MPs to adhere strictly to Chapter 6 of the new constitution, a chapter which lays down the principles for our MPs in the new constitutional order. While we do not begrudge Mr Sonko his considerable wealth, we do expect him not to ever behave in a way that creates a conflict between his personal interests and ours i.e. the public and citizens Kenya. Considering his private interest in the matatu business, we expect that he will not be participating in any deliberations and decision making about how matatus will be regulated. We are expecting that he will not receive gifts unless allowed to do so by an act of parliament and we will expect that he will  hold no foreign bank accounts except in accordance with an Act of Parliament. That he will not ‘moonlight’ i.e. that he will take no other jobs, apart from the selfless service to the people of Makadara which he has already promised.

Yes the burden is heavy but that is the price that MPs have to pay, ‘to whom much is given much will be expected’. The authority that we the citizens give our MPs is an authority they exercise as a public trust, it is an authority given with the demand that they perform their function to the highest standard.  The standards and principles set out for our leaders in Chapter 6 of the new law are essential to the fight against corruption and a necessary ingredient for instituting a new democratic order in Kenya. We expect our elected leaders to “bring honour to the nation and dignity to the office” and be accountable for their actions.

Over to you Honorable Mr Gideon Mbuvi Kioko, MP for Makadara or Mike Sonko if you would prefer.

Parliament's Implementation Schedule Year 1

Posted by on 25th August 2010

Categories: Kenya Constitution News

Unpacking the Akiwumi Commission report

Posted by on 20th August 2010

Categories: Members of Parliament MP Participation News

A few weeks ago, we linked to the full Akiwumi report, which provides full details about the proposals to raise MP’s salaries and benefits.

Now that the referendum dust has settled, we think it’s important to shift focus back to critical issues related to our MPs and the Akiwumi report is one of them.   This post is a focus on some key points in the report that stand out to us .

  • There were only 295 oral submissions received by the commission and 70 written ones.   For a nation that has been up in arms regarding the Akiwumi Commission’s proposals, one has to wonder why not more of us voiced our opinions before the Commission when we had an opportunity to?   As we often say, political accountability also includes us as Kenyan voters (notable absence from most civil society groups, and labour unions as well)
  • Some of the benefits recommended include:
    • Kshs 10,000,000 in patient cover.
    • Maternity of Kshs 500,000 per family.
    • Personal accident cover of Kshs 10,622,000 per MP
    • “decent burials” for MPs
    • Car allowance raised to Kshs 95,000 per month
    • Severance allowance of Kshs 300,000 for each year of service
  • Retirement benefits for Prime Minister and VP:
    • one vehicle of their choice not exceeding 1800cc
    • one four-wheel drive of their choice not exceeding 3000cc
    • fuel allowance of Kshs 50,000 per month
    • vehicles will be maintained at govt’s cost and be replaced every 4 years.
    • full medical cover for self, spouse and children up to 18 years to include overseas treatment.
    • a PA, housekeeper, cook, gardener, two security officers, one secretary, one cleaner, and two drivers
    • diplomatic passports for them and spouses
  • The Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) which aids the MPs in their legislative work has a staff of 941.  It is connected to all provincial headquarters via the internet but only 50% of all districts.
  • The PSC goes through 700 reams of paper per week and its research unit has only 10 staffers.
  • The Constituency Office act allows each MP to have a constituency office, a constituency manager and other staff.   Each MP receives Kshs 2.4 million per year to support the office.
  • Several presentations noted on the need to educate constituents about the roles and responsibilities of both MPs and constituents.
  • Report recommends a performance index for MPs – what are they supposed to do? do they do it? are constituents aware of what they are doing / not doing?
  • The tribunal found that “it would be dishonorable to monitor whether MPs have been visiting their constituencies.”
  • Mileage claims submitted by MPs are currently not verified (e.g. in Australia odometers are checked weekly).
  • MPs claim a sitting allowance not just for committees but also for attending Parliament (Kshs 5,000 per sitting)
  • 29 MPs reflected a net salary payment  of Kshs 10,000 and below, following deductions for various loans etc.  81 MPs reflected a net payment of Kshs 100,000 and less.   Clearly some MPs are over-committed.
  • Total MP salary at independence in 1963 was kshs 860, current salary including allowances kshs 851,000 per month.
  • Current transport allowance of Kshs 366,000 was never legally approved.

Akiwumi Report

Posted by on 21st July 2010

Categories: News

MPs Approve Salary and Perk Increase

Posted by on 1st July 2010

Categories: News

Image via kiki99 on Flickr

In a move that is sure to cause outrage among Kenyans (and that takes us back to the origins of Mzalendo), Kenyan MP have unanimously approved the Akiwumi PSC report which recommends higher salaries and increased perks for MPs.  It does not escape our attention that vote precedes the referendum vote in August and that the new constitution will eliminate tax-free allowances and arbitrary salary increases for MPs.

MP Walter Nyambati defended the review of the report recommendations, “saying the Commission increased the perks to ensure that the salaries of MPs are not reduced since the proposed Constitution declares null and void any law that exempts the allowances of MPs.”

Among other things, the report:

  • Raises MP salaries from Sh851, 000 ($10,411.82) to Sh1.1 million ($13,455.76) per month
  • Proposes that the Speaker be entitled to a sitting allowance of Sh30,000 up from Sh10,000 while MPs will take home Sh10,000 up from Sh5,000 for each sitting.
  • Proposes that the mortgage for the MPs be raised from the maximum Sh15 million to Sh20 million.
  • Those MPs who do not make it back to Parliament after elections will enjoy a lifetime pension of Sh100, 000 monthly.
  • Car maintenance allowance to be increased from Kshs 95,000 per month to Kshs 75,000
  • A Kshs 140,000 tax-exempt house allowance
  • Increment of maternity cover to Kshs 500,000 from Kshs 100,000 per family
  • Increased Maternity Leave pay of Kshs 60,000 per month for three months
  • A new Kshs 30,000 Paternity Leave pay
  • Group Life and Personal Accident cover of Kshs 10,622,200 to extend to death by natural causes, and not limited to through accident
  • Speaker pension of Kshs 1.2 million for every year worked and a Kshs 6 million “winding up allowance.”
  • Kshs 75,000 per month to all former MPs without pension
  • Kshs 336,000 “controversial allowance” in mileage claims