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Parliament Remains Crucial in Protecting and Defending Democracy

Posted by on 19th September 2020

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Tuesday, September 15th 2020 marked the International Day of Democracy when people globally reflected and celebrated the milestones of democratic governance in different jurisdictions. Mzalendo Trust in partnership with the Ghana-based Parliamentary Network Africa and the support of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) brought together Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations (PMOs) from across the continent to share their unique experiences particularly in the Covid-19 context.

Across the region, governments responded in a similar manner with PMOs noting the loud silence by Parliament, the Executive’s dominance and the importance of parliamentary monitoring by the civil society and the public. The conversation on democracy could not have been timelier.

Responses and reactions by governments across the world have seen rights and freedoms being threatened and violated, legal procedures bypassed and a top-down, opaque flow of information approach being adopted by leadership. A question arising on where oversight bodies have been as all this unfolds. Parliaments being critical oversight institutions have in turn been put on the spot as far as holding the Executive and government agencies accountable.

In Kenya, it will be remembered that Parliament quickly adjourned sittings in March upon the confirmation of a positive case in the country. In an effort to contain the spread of the virus, the Executive issued a number of directives concerning economic cushioning, movement of persons and interaction of people in public spaces. Parliament then had to work backwards where upon resumption of sittings legislators were put to task with expediting the legal framework for these directives. In addition to this the Ministries and government agencies had to urgently procure protective equipment and in the process contravened procurement laws and procedures. In the absence of Parliamentary oversight, these procedures presented opportunities for mismanagement of funds that were meant to be utilized to fight the virus. It didn’t take too long before allegations of corruption emerged.

Pressure is now piling on the parliamentary committees to uncover the theft and recover the stolen funds to ensure the Kenyan taxpayer does not get a raw deal as has been the norm.

The conversation on oversight and accountability not only focuses on preventive frameworks but also whistleblowing. Alternative voices namely; media and civil society carry a fair share of responsibility in protecting democracy and keeping government in check. The lack of a robust opposition in the Kenyan parliament has left the responsibility of whistleblowing to the media and CSOs. The fourth estate has been on the post for regurgitating the government narrative on the pandemic and failing to ask tough questions while they should. The pandemic has indeed disrupted most sectors that are now playing catch up.

Adapt or die is the choice that different players in governance have now. Parliament seems to have adopted the former with the adjustments in sitting arrangements in the chambers and use of technology in conducting sittings to ensure they deliver on their mandate to legislate, represent and conduct oversight. This is a move that PMOs highly encouraged for posterity to ensure that government institutions are always a step ahead.

To protect democracy, the task cannot be left to Parliament alone. Media and civil society should step up to ensure the voice of the citizen is not silenced and more importantly to watch the watchdog.

 

This blog piece was initially uploaded on 15th September 2020.

Parliament Resumes with A Great Task Ahead

Posted by on 19th September 2020

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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.

Parliamentary Committees Should Step up and Deliver Their Mandate

Posted by on 1st September 2020

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During his 11th and most recent public address regarding the status of Covid-19 in Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered that the investigations into the alleged loss of public funds meant to fight Covid-19 be concluded in 21 days. While pressure is mounting on the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to produce names, prosecute and convict the guilty, Parliament is under pressure to live up to their oversight expectations.

A bulk of the oversight conducted by both Houses of Parliament is undertaken through committees that are established under Article 124 of the Constitution. These committees, according to the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act, 2017, have the powers to invite or summon any person to appear before them for the purpose of giving evidence or providing any information they may have. It is also under this Act and Article 125 of the Constitution that parliamentary committees have the power of a High Court and with all powers, privileges and immunities to act as such which is fundamental in ensuring that Parliament executes the quasi-judicial functions assigned to it under the Constitution.

Committees are also important because they allow for the division of labour on different issues. This is especially where having a full House session would cause more delays and lengthy timelines. They allow for deeper investigations into matters in question and hearing of evidence before finally reporting to the entire House.

On Friday, August 28th 2020, the suspended Kemsa CEO, Mr Jonah Manjari appeared before a joint sitting of the Senate Health Committee and Senate ad-hoc Committee on Covid-19 in Kenya alongside the Kemsa board Chairman, Mr Kembi Gitura to answer to questions regarding the alleged misappropriation of billions at the agency. The heated session between the committee members and the two would end in fingers pointing at the top two officials at the Ministry of Health after the embattled CEO admitted to receiving instructions regarding the procurement of medical equipment tenders. This would lead to the Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe and his Principal Secretary Susan Mochache being summoned by committees from both the Senate and National Assembly to answer to these questions.

Should the two fail to appear before the committees, legislators will have the power to impose a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand shillings and/or order their arrest as is stated in the Parliamentary Privileges Act, 2017. The question, however, is whether these committee hearings will yield favourable results for Kenyans as many question the effectiveness of various instruments of justice in Kenya.

Parliamentary committees have previously been condemned for not giving Kenyans value for money especially considering the kind of allowances that committee sittings attract. A great example would be the NYS saga that was probed by the Public Accounts Committee that was at the time chaired by former Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo. Despite the attention the scandal attracted and the weeks of sittings that were aired on TV, no convictions have been made to date. A fate that Kenyans fear will befall the Covid-millionaires scandal.

But does the fault really only fall on committees? Committees continue to face a number of challenges in undertaking their mandate.

A common one is the insubordination by government officials who have on several occasions ignored the invitations by committees. The Cabinet Secretary for Interior, Fred Matiang’i has been put on the spot for failing to appear before the ad-hoc committee on Covid-19 on a number of occasions where he was meant to answer to questions on violations of human rights by police officers while enforcing the dusk-to-dawn curfew. Instead, Dr Matiang’i has been represented by his juniors against the displeasure of the committee members.

Another challenge we are likely to see in the coming weeks is the duplication of roles. The Kemsa scandal has attracted the attention of three committees from the National Assembly and two from the Senate namely; Public Accounts Committee, Public Investments Committee, National Assembly’s Health Committee, Senate’s Health Committee and Senate’s ad-hoc Committee on Covid-19 in Kenya. For the next few weeks, health officials will be required to appear before these committees, answer to the same questions and present the same evidence. Perhaps the Senate and National Assembly leadership should consider bringing together their efforts since the common goal is to trace the stolen Covid-19 monies.

Access to information and time constraints have proven to be crucial impediments to committees concluding their business. The Select committee formed in September 2019 to probe the Sh 63 billion Medical Equipment Scheme (MES) has on several occasions requested an extension of the term limit to conclude their investigation and table a comprehensive report. The committee chaired by Isiolo Senator Fatuma Dullo cited complexities in their investigations that involved high profile players who by omission or commission, bungled the ambitious healthcare programme. As Senate resumes sittings this September, will the Dullo-led committee finally give Kenyans answers on MES a year after the Senate voted to establish this committee?

Will public trust in Parliament and its oversight role be restored in the coming weeks or will Kenyans again feel like they got the shorter end of the stick after millions have been spent on sittings that didn’t come to a favourable conclusion?

A Decade Later, The Constitution Still Has a Long Way to Go

Posted by on 25th August 2020

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27th August 2020 will mark exactly 10 years since a jubilant crowd of Kenyans filling up Nairobi’s Uhuru Park witnessed the then President Mwai Kibaki lift the new Constitution. This moment came after years and years of a consistent push for a change in the law.

The 2010 Constitution compared to the repealed law was premised on change. It recognized the sovereignty of the people, spelt out the national values and principles of governance, gave an elaborate bill of rights, outlined the principles of leadership and integrity, had a vision on inclusiveness and gender parity and clearly separated powers between the various arms of government.

It was not until 2013, when a new government was voted in, that the devolved system of governance began taking shape. Since then, many have attested to the benefits of devolved services and the development it has brought in return. It is within these past seven years that counties, particularly those in marginalized regions, have recorded milestones in their service delivery. Turkana County, for instance, recorded its first surgical operation last year, an achievement that would have taken much longer to attain under the old centralized system.

The Constitution, in text, planted a seed of optimism that would see a significant shift in the quality of governance, public participation and service delivery. However, it has fallen short of expectation in its implementation. Unfortunately, the past 10 years have been tainted by mass looting and mismanagement of public resources, conflicts between the government and independent government agencies, supremacy battles between the national and county governments and an archaic culture of secrecy that characterized the repealed constitution.

Constitutional reforms are yet to translate into systemic reforms. This has proven to be true particularly in the recent months that the country has been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. To curb the spread of the virus the government enforced a number of preventive measures. Kenyans, however, did not anticipate the rise in violation of human rights by the police force and loved ones with the enforcement of these regulations. This piles on to the already existing burden of poor healthcare systems. As Scheaffer Okore put it in an article, Corona drove a chisel into our system cracks.

Prior to the news of a positive Covid-19 patient in Kenya, the Senate through a special committee was in the process of probing the Managed Medical Equipment System that has been marred with controversy from the onset. In 2019, the National Hospital Insurance Fund was at the centre of a scandal as it emerged that the fund could have lost more than Ksh. 10 billion in false claims. The mobile clinics that intended to address the gaps in health facilities in select counties, still remain unused despite costing the taxpayer about Ksh 800 million. This and more paint a grim picture of the ailing healthcare system that we have been dealing with for years.

Article 43 of the Constitution grants every Kenyan the right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to healthcare services, including reproductive health care. Section (2) of the same article provides that a person shall not be denied emergency medical treatment. But as the popular sheng phrase goes, Vitu Kwa Ground ni Different. Enough Kenyans have been turned away by both private and public hospitals for lack of funds. Others have watched their loved ones slowly ail to death or come out of the health facilities scarred for life over negligence or with the burden of paying hospitals bills in the millions.

Even with this grim reality, the corrupt are still going about their business enriching themselves with Covid-related funds. This is a matter of great concern for Kenyans and the civil society who have voiced their displeasure with the mismanagement of funds at the cost of Kenyans’ lives. There truly is no honour among thieves and that is why it is critical for the oversight bodies to hold the government to account and bring perpetrators to book. While Mzalendo Trust and other members of the civil society called out the theft committed against Kenyans, a lot more needs to be done by the various arms of government to stand by the Constitution that majority of us voted in favour for.

Members of Parliament right now have the herculean task to prove to be more than political mouthpieces and undertake their oversight role with diligence and integrity. Taming corruption cannot be left to ‘karma’ when there are procedures that can regain stolen taxpayer money and bring the culprits to book. This is not the vision that Kenyans had when the deafening noise filled Uhuru Park. Provisions on transparency accountability and the entire Chapter 6 need to be followed to the letter and those in contravention should be charged before a court of law. The spirit of the Constitution of Kenya needs to be upheld and respected to attain its true purpose.

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.

The High Cost of Politics in Kenya

Posted by on 11th August 2020

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On August 5th, Westminster Foundation for Democracy in partnership with Mzalendo Trust and the Netherlands Institute for Multi-Party Democracy, launched a report on the ‘Cost of Parliamentary Politics in Kenya.’ The report sought to highlight the cost of seeking Parliamentary office in Kenya.

On average, it was revealed that, on average, a Parliamentary campaign cost between Ksh. 20M – Ksh. 35M. This includes campaign done for both the primaries and the campaign phase. The electoral process in Kenya was found to be quite expensive. It costs about Ksh. 2700 ($25) per voter.

Additionally, the report revealed that there are several factors that increase the cost of Parliamentary politics in Kenya. One of these is minimal party support where aspirants who vie for posts which are not of particular interest to the party do not receive adequate financial support. There is also the matter where political parties have not been receiving funds appropriately from the Registrar of Political Parties. For example, in 2019, only Jubilee and ODM were able to receive funds from the Ksh. 371M fund.

Respondents in the study stated that financial resources for the campaigns mostly came from personal resources and from family/friends contributions. This shows how discriminatory access to political office can be for those who are not from well-to-do backgrounds. In addition, there was the conclusion that party primaries were more expensive than general campaigns. This is because most of the funds went into paying nomination fees, purchasing campaign materials and the grassroots mobilization of campaign teams and voters.

Building on this, one of the main reasons for this exorbitant cost is due to the high expectations of voters on political aspirants. Due to the commercialization of politics & the knowledge that political aspirants are willing to spend significant sums to get elected the electorate expect politicians & political parties to compensate them for their support. The electorate seeks compensation for various purposes. These range from individual needs, such as sustenance & medical care, to community needs such as schools, health centres and roads. This first occurs on the campaign trail but the expectation continues to the office.

While this is largely caused due to issues of voter bribery, the large populace is not aware of the roles and functions of Members of Parliament and believe that wielding political power is the key to financial freedom. This causes a strain on Members of Parliament as they are unable to juggle the electorate’s financial expectations, their own personal goals and how to manage their public images.

Interestingly, just last week, Parliament passed the Parliamentary Pensions (Amendment) Bill, 2019 that seeks to impose a minimum pension of Ksh. 100, 000 for members of Parliament who served between 1983-2001. While arguing for an increase of their pension, Members in the House stated that they still received many requests for money from citizens even when they were retired.

It can be seen that the high cost of politics deters the active and meaningful participation of youth and women. Mzalendo Trust’s report released last year recommended that there is need for an adequate campaign financing legislation to put all parties, especially marginalized communities, at par. There is also need for increased civic awareness to ensure that citizens understand the roles and functions of their democratically elected leaders.

A surge in ‘Ills’ in the Time of Covid

Posted by on 9th August 2020

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By the time the country is declared Coronavirus-free, we might be dealing with another big scandal. This is according to media specialist Macharia Gaitho who shared concerns on the mismanagement of public funds during the launch of the findings of the impact of Covid19 on governance on 30th June 2020.
“One of the things that worries me is that times of crisis, for some people, provide an opportunity to enrich themselves. Every major scandal in this country has been around a crisis,” Mr Gaitho intimated during the webinar. Current circumstances surrounding the management of Covid-19-related funds show indications that a scandal could be indeed be brewing.
According to the ‘Action For Transparency’ website, a total of Ksh 194,663,072,350 has been raised as aid money so far to help fight the virus and its adverse socio-economic effects. However, these foreign and local donations are yet to be fully utilized as healthcare workers across various counties have threatened to down their tools citing salary delays and poor working conditions. Furthermore, nurses are demanding an increase in their allowances and requested to have them increased to match that of the doctors.
This threatens the already strained healthcare system as calls by medical associations to the government to hire more staff has consistently fallen on deaf ears. On 14th July 2020, Kenya buried the first doctor to die of the virus. Prior to and after this sad event, medics have continued asking to be facilitated with more personal protective equipment (PPEs) even as the number of positive covid19 cases continues to rise. The PPEs in question could be a subject of interest for the anti-corruption bodies as it turns the procurement process of the equipment is reported to have been done irregularly.
“This pandemic provides opportunities for very many to steal. You’ve heard CS Kagwe talk about the cartels at Afya house that he’s having to confront. Anytime there’s an emergency, the procurement processes are short-circuited because we need some of these things like yesterday and that creates opportunities for some. That is the nature of our country,” Mr Gaitho added. The crisis characterized by weakened institutions provides the conducive environment for a few to enrich themselves as the rest fight for their lives and livelihoods.
Already under normal circumstances, Kenya has tried to slay the corruption dragon in futility. Doing so under the prevailing circumstances may be next to impossible. That, however, does not mean that those charged with the oversight role altogether should despair and allow the greedy to thrive. A consensus was reached by participants in the webinar mentioned earlier that there has to be a joint effort between all arms of the government, media, civil society and Kenyans for there to be absolute transparency and accountability even as we work towards flattening the curve.
Corruption in Kenya is largely an institutional problem rather than a cultural one. So to count on the greedy growing a conscience that would force them to back away from stealing from taxpayers is clearly not an effective tactic. Upon solving the revenue allocation formula stalemate, the Senate should ensure that the monies reaching the counties are utilized for the purposes stated. This also applies to the conditional grants given to the counties specifically to fight Covid-19.
Parliament needs to not only act with speed but with the firmness that will weed out the corrupt and bring them to book.

It’s All Coming Back to Bite Us

Posted by on 29th July 2020

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The month of July has seen the highest number of confirmed positive Covid-19 cases and fatalities, painting a grim picture of the weeks to come as August and September are expected to mark the peak of the disease in Kenya. There currently is no light at the end of the tunnel, however long it may be. The country went from panic shopping for toilet paper and sanitizer, making memes from the press briefings, readjusting to the rules and regulations, processing deaths and night-time burials, dealing with police brutality and finally seeming unfazed by the growing number of cases and deaths.

How has the government responded to this? More stringent measures and unsurprisingly, more threats. Just two days ago, President Uhuru Kenyatta extended the nationwide curfew and ordered that all bars be closed for the next 30 days failure to which licenses would be withdrawn. This came on the backdrop of several Kenyans including elected officials being caught on the wrong side of the law, all in a bid to enjoy a drink. These actions have most definitely been condemned by the Ministry of Health officials and Members of Parliament that warned that the recklessness being displayed was bound to lead to even more infections. Which is true seeing considering most would ignore social distancing in those social settings.

The point being driven home by leadership is that to truly succeed in flattening the curve, we the citizens have to seriously embark on preventive measures. The challenge with this approach is that it is largely dependent on social behavioural change and spares the leadership from looking inward. Talk of the government scapegoating!

It would be unfair to place all the blame on Kenyans only. The social behaviour of Kenyans pales to the gaps and failures of the leadership in fighting the virus and its impact on all aspects of life. It is a fact that the virus originated from Wuhan, China. However, what led us to this point of thousands of ill Kenyans, a dying economy, halting of learning and general uncertainty? It is important for the government to self-evaluate and look at the opportunities they missed out on, past and present, that would not only prevent the virus from getting into the country but make it manageable.

“The Jubilee government has already delivered improved security, economic stability, jobs, expanded access to affordable health care and modernised public services. We must now redouble our efforts to build upon the foundations of success. The task is not yet complete. The work must continue and should not be derailed,” reads an excerpt of the first page of the Jubilee Party 2017 manifesto.

Had this vision been brought to life we wouldn’t be reporting thousands of positive Covid-19 cases and burying tens of Kenyans. Thanks to leaders’ incompetency, mass looting of public funds and poor accountability Kenya and her leadership is clutching onto straws to not only save lives but save face. Had the laptop project been implemented in full, thousands of learners would still be in a position to stay on track with the school year.

The Managed Medical Equipment System project, currently marred with irregularities, was an opportune moment for counties to enhance their health care services with more equipped facilities. But the multibillion project from the onset was bound to be surrounded by controversy given the way it was undertaken. There was little consultation with local leadership and the deals made were the least bit transparent. On top of this, different media reports have revealed that few counties are prepared to deal with the virus. In essence, devolution was meant to solve issues of county capacity but challenges that range from corruption to power struggles between the national government and county governments have stopped counties from realizing their full potential.

So it is hypocritical for the government to constantly call out Kenyans on derailing the fight against the virus as if their actions or lack thereof have not greatly contributed to the prevailing circumstances. It is then prudent for current and future leadership to realize that service delivery is a bare minimum that not only serves Kenyans on normal days but also prepares and cushions the country for such eventualities.

So when the leadership points a finger at Kenyans they should remember that three fingers point back at them.

MPs’ Poor Attendance in Committees is a Disservice to the Taxpayer

Posted by on 22nd July 2020

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A new report compiled by various committee clerks on members’ attendance in National Assembly Committee meetings paints a worrying picture of the casual nature of various legislators when it comes to performing their roles in Parliament. According to the report, 10 MPs did not attend parliamentary committee meetings from January to October 2019. Deliberately missing committee meetings for three months can be equated to an MP opting to stay out of the committees altogether, that is according to the Parliamentary Standing orders which stipulate that if a member fails to attend four consecutive sessions of the committee without written permission from the chairperson or the speaker, the Member of Parliament shall be replaced.

Committees have often been described as the engine roomsof Parliament because most of nature and load of the work carried out in committees. In brief, it is in the committees that concrete elaboration of the law is undertaken, budgets and expenditures for the executive approved, investigations on special issues carried out, public participation and proper scrutiny of policies and programmes to assess whether they meet the objectives of legislation and development plans are done.

Generally, the parliamentary committee hearings have been considered the best tools in undertaking the oversight of governance and administrative matters. Through the calls for public participation, parliamentary committees not only enable the Parliament to be in adherence with Article 118 of the Constitution but they enrich policies and legislation with experts’ input. Committees enable direct contact between the citizens and specific MPs and the flow of information to Members. The committees also serve as a platform for people in the opposition to voice their concerns and have input in the development of policies.

Therefore, the dismal performance in committee attendance by members is a great disservice to the citizens they represent and undermines the principles of democratic governance and should be condemned. The revelation that MPs are absconding their duties further weakens the public trust in the legislature as an institution that is mandated to address their needs. By missing committee meetings or any legislative proceedings without valid reasons, MPs leave the citizens with a feeling of being ‘unrepresented’.

The citizens who pay taxes and voted with the desire to attain progressive change often end up feeling shortchanged when the MPs fail to play their part. Because citizens have high expectations from their representatives, MPs should strive to utilize the available means to amplify and address their needs. Citizens have a myriad of issues ranging from healthcare, education, infrastructure and security that need to be addressed to the government and their only link is their representatives.

The primary need for the establishment of parliamentary committees is to gather members of parliament in smaller groups with a specific jurisdiction such as Health, in order to enable them to work efficiently and effectively. However, the mere presence of parliamentary committees is not necessarily a sufficient indicator for their effectiveness. Thus, there’s need for the respective members to actively engage in the committee activities. Avenues such as parliamentary committees are perfect opportunities for MPs to ensure that various policy development reflect the local needs of their constituents and at the same time promote the national interests. In addition, a parliamentary committee that performs its duties effectively promotes democratic governance.

Why it’s Important to Understand MPs’ Roles.

Posted by on 14th July 2020

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Upon gaining the new Constitution in 2010 one key area that was overlooked was the civic education of Kenyans who are now guided by it. Like it has been said before Kenya ails not from lack of laws, rather from the absence of the political good-will to implement them. This absence of political good-will is fed by the mismatch between Kenyans’ expectations and the mandate of elected representatives as outlined in the Constitution, and this mismatch is as a result of the electorate not fully understanding the roles of the different arms of government.
To give context, Mzalendo recently released the Annual Parliamentary Scorecard that analysed the plenary performance of members of the National Assembly and the Senate in the year 2019. One of the comments that kept coming up as Kenyans interacted with the analysis was that an MP doesn’t need to speak in Parliament if they’re pushing for development on the ground. In addition to this, most said that those who spoke in the House just make noise anyway and do nothing productive.
For most, a productive MP is one who brings development to his/her constituents in the form of better roads, better or new school infrastructure, affordable education, better hospitals and safer neighbourhoods. The issue however with gauging an MP’s performance on this scale is that these are among the Executive’s (at both county and national level) deliverables. Where development of this nature is concerned, a member of Parliament is tasked with providing an enabling policy and legal environment and to provide oversight over the national and county governments to ensure that Wanjiku’s socio-economic needs are addressed.
A big portion of Kenyans is fixated on the “we can’t eat laws” mentality failing to see the opportunities that lie in legislation. A great example would be these past four months that Kenya has been dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. Kenyans should remember that while President Uhuru Kenyatta has on different occasions given economic cushioning directives, they could only come to effect after Parliament provided a legal framework for them. Furthermore, the question of accountability of the funds being allocated to counties and different state organs can effectively be addressed by Parliament through their oversight role.
As it stands there is a stalemate in the Senate on the allocation formula as Senators fight to protect their respective counties from marginalization in the distribution of resources. If the Senate gets the sharing formula wrong vulnerable Kenyan will bear the brunt of the pandemic as infections seem to be on the rise in the wake of strained hospitals. This allocation formula in question seeks to solve the issue of county capacity and preparedness in fighting the virus and preventing deaths. One, therefore, need not overemphasize the crucial role of Parliament in flattening the curve.
The National Assembly, on the other hand, faces the important task of filling the vacant office of the Auditor General whose role is so keeping public finance books in check. Several experts have warned that the prevailing circumstances provide optimum conditions for the corrupt to steal from Kenyans. It would be unfortunate if the gap left by former Auditor-General Edward Ouko provided lee-way for corruption to take place as Kenyans fight for their lives.
Having all this in mind, it is important for constant, consistent citizen sensitization on the law to take place for Kenyans to be able to hold their leaders to account. An informed citizen is an empowered citizen.