When things got going and the National Assembly started holding sittings in April 2013, the newly-elected Speaker, Justin Muturi, found himself facing a problem.
He did not know most of the 349 members, many of whom were serving their first term and the House was yet to issue them with the cards with their information to use with the electronic system.
“I only knew about 70 or so by their names. That time their cards had not come so everybody stands in their place and you just see a crowd. How do you deal with this?” he said at an interview last week.
CALLING BY NAME
Because of the need to get things moving, he said, he would initially pick those he knew to contribute to debate.
From there, he began to call them out by their colour of dress and unique characteristics.
In one memorable instance, he referred to Kangundo MP Katatha Maweu as “the one with the receding hairline and the grey beard”.
The difficulty was one of the realities of handling a crowded National Assembly, the result on increasing the constituencies from 210 to 290 and then having 47 Woman Representatives while keeping the 12 nominated MP positions.
Now, with the National Assembly holding its last scheduled sittings this week, the Speaker knows almost all of the MPs by name.
“At least I know virtually every member by their names and I will not have difficulties,” he said.
The variety of weekend activities to which he is invited regularly have also helped him get to know the lawmakers.
Still, the sheer number of MPs in the National Assembly has meant that speaking times are reduced and opportunities given to a few when an issue needs to be dispensed with quickly.
MPs are also discouraged from contributing because there is usually a long queue on the Speaker’s console and one has to wait for long.
That’s how there are quite a number of MPs who will exit the House without having made an impact, at least nationally, either by the quality of their contributions in the House or by sponsoring a significant legislation.
Mr Muturi said that to make it easier for new MPs to adjust, their induction sessions will be longer and more people will be brought in to share their experience and give them insights on how they can make a bigger impact.
Looking back at the life of the National Assembly, December 18, 2014, stands out as one of its worst days.
It was the day Deputy Speaker Joyce Laboso was splashed with water, Mr Muturi had a thick tome thrown at him and Mbita MP Millie Odhiambo claimed that two of her colleagues attempted to undress her (and she helped them along).
It was the day members of the Jubilee Coalition and the serjeants-at-arms shielded the Speaker from physical assault by Cord MPs and with the live broadcast switched off, a raft of amendments to laws touching on security were approved.
Before the Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit was ordered to switch off the live broadcast, Shinyalu MP Silverse Anami had tossed one of the heavy books of laws at him as…
The Speaker said he had decided to take charge after realising that the task was too big for his deputy, Dr Joyce Laboso, after her experience in the House earlier that day.
Dr Laboso was presiding over the Committee of the Whole House in the morning when Cord MPs surged to the front to stop her. The Jubilee MPs moved in to stop them.
In the melee, Homa Bay Woman Rep Gladys Wanga grabbed a bottle of water and sprinkled some on the Deputy Speaker. Dr Laboso had to hastily adjourn that sitting.
When they resumed in the afternoon, Mr Muturi took charge of the Committee of the Whole House, and presided over the approval of the Bill amidst the chaos.
“What has never been known is that there were so many amendments, which were proposed by members of both Jubilee and the Cord coalition.
“Unfortunately, forces outside of the House told members of the Cord coalition, even those who had amendments, ‘No. Forget about that. Just go and make sure this thing does not succeed.’ That is not a democratic way of dealing with issues,” he said.
Mr Muturi said he had approved the amendments because he felt they were worth admitting, and that it was better for the House to make the decision on the contentious issues.
“But a decision had already been taken outside of the House. ‘Don’t allow those things. Don’t even move amendments’, which is the reason that when they came, the plan was not to listen to anything however logical or illogical,” he said.
Cord’s reasoning was that with the Jubilee Coalition, having an overwhelming majority, and with their MPs whipped to attend the sitting and vote en masse, there was no way their objection was going to be successful.
Their attempts to have the matter discussed jointly and for the Speaker to address questions about the constitutionality of sections of the Bill had also not been successful.
Looking back at it, Mr Muturi said he had no regrets and insisted what he did was to defend the integrity of Parliament.
“If I allowed that scheme to happen, I would have destroyed the institution of Parliament. If I allowed that scheme of derailing a legitimate process to happen, I would have gone down in history as one person that killed Parliament.
“Because it meant that any time in the future, if people didn’t want something, rather than come and argue, persuade their colleagues, they would come and disrupt.
“That surely would have shown great weakness on my part, and I am not weak,” he added.
VOTERS TO BLAME
The Speaker feels he was vindicated when the High Court threw out eight of the 98 sections of the Security Laws Amendments Act.
Mr Muturi contends that worse moments have been witnessed in the National Assembly before, albeit not live on television.
In 1997 Opposition MPs tried to stop the reading of the Budget, going for the Mace, as President Daniel arap Moi watched.
Still, he asked, “Is it the business of the Speaker when members lose tempers? Maybe the electorate should tell us why they elect violent people.”
Among the consistent complaints about the National Assembly has been the poor quality of debate.
Like many, Mr Muturi is also critical of the quality of debate in the House, which is compounded by the large number of MPs.
“A House of Parliament is composed of so many people who are elected by the people in the constituencies. I have no say in the calibre of people that the electorate brings,” he said.
He recalled that in past Parliaments, close to 100 of the MPs were ministers and their assistants, and they used to enjoy the advantage of having been briefed about the issues by the technocrats in the ministries.
“More importantly, because ministers and assistants were appointed from amongst Members of Parliament, even the members, particularly those from the ruling party, would behave in a particular way that shows some decorum because you never know, you could easily be tapped for appointment,” Mr Muturi said.
In those days, he says, there wasn’t the rampant violation of Standing Orders that persists to date, more than four years after the MPs first stepped into the Chambers.
In change to the Standing Orders approved by the Procedure and House Rules Committee last weekend, the Speaker will in future have the option of having a party decide and give him beforehand a list of MPs to speak on a specific motion.
That way, the committee reckoned, speaking opportunities would go to those that are adequately informed about a subject, or prepared.
Still, as with everything else in Parliament, there has to be a decision by MPs on that, and that will happen before the last adjournment on Thursday evening.