Hits and misses as curtains fall on eleventh Parliament

Kenya’s Supreme Court judges file into the chamber during the opening of the 11th Parliament in the capital Nairobi April 16, 2013. (Photo Courtesy)

At exactly 10.01pm on Thursday night, Speaker Justin Muturi drew the curtains on the tenure of the National Assembly in Kenya’s 11th Parliament which first sat on March 28, 2013.

It was a somewhat emotional night, filled with goodbyes, gratitude and nostalgia as the MPs departed to go back to their constituencies to face voters and seek another chance to serve in the august House.

Majority Leader Aden Duale, who was the fulcrum around which the legislative calendar revolved, said the House had passed a total of 180 Bills, and that night, the House records showed 49 other Bills were in the legislative pipeline. In a sum, Duale said the four years and four months in the National Assembly had been “long, tedious, fulfilling and very interesting.”

“When the history of this Parliament is written, I would like it to be remembered for its legislative footprints in the sands of time,” said the Majority Leader. Aside from the Bills, there were at least 104 petitions from the public on different issues, 50 questions to the Cabinet Secretaries, dozens of committee reports and hundreds of public officers whose appointments were approved in the National Assembly.

“Indeed, this Parliament will go down in history for performing its legislative role exceptionally well,” said Speaker Muturi.

Laws overhaul

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To grasp the impact that the MPs have had, aside from the public notoriety of being the first Parliament that attracted public notoriety when it bullied the chairperson of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) to increase their pay packets from Sh535,000 to at least Sh1 million, you have to audit the laws that they have passed.

Top of the list of the life changing laws include the overhaul of the Companies Act to boost investment in Kenya, a review of the procurement laws to make the process nearly fool-proof to cartel manipulation, electoral reforms, and the changes to the Banking Act to shield the public from the exorbitant interest rate charges.

The MPs also changed the Mining Act, reviewed the Insolvency Act, the Climate Change law, and laws to do with wildlife, the environment, water and business registration. They also passed the Health Bill, but this is still awaiting the presidential assent.

They also amended the Political Parties law to ensure there was discipline within political parties, and tinkered with the same law and the one that deals with elections to ensure that more women got a boost to participate in the elections. The House also successfully made changes to the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) at a time when there was infighting between the commissioners and the secretariat, and sent the commissioners home. The jury is still out on the impact of that decision.

The legacy of the National Assembly also has to be looked at in the context of the meaningless laws that they passed, such as the changes to the law to decide on protocol at public functions, the punitive laws to gag the media houses and individual journalists and the mixed bag of security laws, that on one hand allowed the government to deal with terrorism but on the other hand, threatened civil liberties

What they did not do is to meet the constitutional requirement to ensure that more women are elected into the National Assembly.

They didn’t pass the two-thirds gender rule, despite a judicial deadline hanging over their heads with a real consequence of premature dissolution. “It is Kenyans out there who should go to court to seek the assistance of the Chief Justice to dissolve Parliament,” said Muturi, who said the onus was now on the next Parliament to pass laws to ensure the two-thirds gender principle, or else it will be declared unconstitutional. He said only a referendum will cure gender agenda.

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The shame of corruption also reared its ugly head in the National Assembly when at least two committees were accused of corruption. The big story was when the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was reconstituted, because some of the members had allegedly extorted their witnesses in exchange for a favourable report. Similar allegations were leveled against the Agriculture Committee.

The MPs also steadied different State corporations that had policy weaknesses or managerial malpractice, when the Public Investments Committee investigated audit queries in many parastatals.

There was also a day in 2014 when the National Assembly’s resolution for the government not to pay the Sh1 billion debt to Anglo-leasing related companies was roundly ignored and the President ordered the payment to be made.

Multiple suspensions

At least twice, the House has descended into irredeemable chaos that had multiple suspension for the MPs. The first was during the controversial sitting of December 18, 2014, when the security laws were being debated. The second was when MPs heckled and blew whistles in the House to interrupt the State of the Nation Address.

For committee reports, the shame was when the National Assembly’s committees of National Security and the one on Defence and Foreign Relations jointly acquitted the security apparatus over the handling of the Westgate terror attack, where there were reports of looting, only for video footage to emerge. The military admitted that there were some bad apples and that these had been punished. The whole charade within the corridors of the House, led to questions being raised about how committees operate and if they have the capacity to investigate government agencies.

The fights with the Senate over Bills will also blot the tenure of the 11th Parliament, but if you ask the main players, the Speaker and the Majority Leader, these were useful “tests” as the senators “understood their new roles in a new institution”.

The Speaker also issued rulings on how presidential memoranda have to be processed in the House, how to amend constitutional Bills, the procedure of removal of cabinet secretaries, engagement with the Chief Justice, and how on how to work with the Senate.

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