Despite some fine work, the Senate’s survival is not guaranteed

This week, those on Facebook have probably seen some reminders that it is exactly four years since the 2013 elections. Last Saturday, mine read “..while you were sleeping President Moi voted at Kabarak…”

Facebook machines are programmed to load our pages with what might be popular, based on our likes, or what our friends might like to see on our pages, and which new stories Facebook thinks we may like to see.

Real sinister stuff that my friend Nanjira shared in an essay from The Atlantic.

While there is still a tiny possibility that the election date may change, with new registration and procurement hurdles being placed before election officials, and a December date bill still lurking in the National Assembly, both houses of Parliament have adjusted their schedules to prepare for the elections.

In introducing the calendar for the National Assembly last month, Majority Leader Aden Duale said that while Parliament would recess in June, MP’s could still be summoned, such as in the case of war or an emergency. But, nevertheless, they would be paid until August 2017.   

On the other hand, Senators will be on recess for the whole of March, from the 3rd to the 27th, and then for another four months from April to August 2017. In between, they will have some sittings such as to attend the President’s State of the Nation speech on March 15.

LACK OF RESPECT

Senators have also not connected with the public. While this week also marked the fourth year of devolution with a conference, and colourful newspaper pull-outs full of achievements that governors say they have delivered, there is little mention about Senators.

It is unfortunate that Senators would rather spend most of 2017 out campaigning rather than being in the Senate.

Many will be vying for Governor or National Assembly seats, with others even going for MCA, Women’s Representative and (for now) the office of President.

Senators have arbitrated many issues and numerous petitions. They have tried governors who were impeached, including one twice, but these have been halted by the courts. They also did a thorough investigation that may have started the turnaround process at Kenya Airways, but was that within their mandate?

There is a lot more they could be doing in terms of auditing counties and settling boundary disputes between communities.

Despite the importance of the Senate, it has been in turf wars with the National Assembly that has criticised it and fought it back. They have given their all.  They have at times united in what they feel is a  lack of respect from the Executive, their sister National Assembly and the courts.

CHOPPING BLOCK

In November 2016, Senate Majority leader Kithure Kindiki updated his colleagues on the progress of their Bills. They had got 44 Bills from the National Assembly and had concluded 33 of them and sent then on to the President for signing, with another 5  in progress.

But while Senators had sent 38 Bills to the National Assembly, only 10 had been concluded, and the National Assembly claimed that five were money Bills. Another 18 were pending, and he feared they would lapse with the end of Parliament’s term

It would be unfortunate if history repeated itself. In reading Charles Hornsby’s authoritative book, Kenya: A History Since Independence, we learn about the about the seventh constitutional amendment which abolished the last Senate in December 1966.

He writes that:

the senate had been given little authority by the constitution and less by the government…it became increasingly redundant… the government ignored most of its motions while the house of representatives defined virtually every bill as a ‘money bill’ and refused to accept senate amendments…although Njonjo promised in 1965 that the government had no intention of securing the abolition of the upper house it survived only one more year.

If this or the next government got serious about tackling the escalating budget deficit in all arms of government, the Senate would likely be on the chopping block.

Twitter: @bankelele

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