Why Former AG ‘Sir’ Charles Njonjo Is Wrong On Our Model Of Parliament, It Doesnt Matter We Abandoned Westminster

By Dorcas Sarkozy

Counterpoint to Mr. Charles Njonjo’s “It was a mistake to abandon the Westminster model for our Parliament.”

Former Attorney General and anglophile Charles Mugane Njonjo wrote a piece in the September 26th issue of The Star titled “It was a huge mistake to abandon the Westminster model for our Parliament” where the nonagenarian argues that Kenya should not have abandoned the parliamentary system of government, not surprisingly, modelled after the system used in the United Kingdom.

Before I respond to Mr. Njonjo’s piece, let me point out a truism:

All systems of governance, of leadership etc. are only as effective as the humans charged with executing them. That is why a key component of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) quality systems management is titled “Management Commitment and Leadership” and speaks to the importance of having adequate AND competent personnel working in an organization.

Without management commitment and leadership in executing and adhering to requirements of the documented standards/policies/procedures, said documents are just that – documents! I am sure that Kenya’s 1st (?) African Attorney General is fully aware of this most elemental of managerial tenets and that he chooses to ignore or paper them over explains why the country remains a hotbed of corruption and incompetence.

Let me also say that the article is a great illustration of revision and hind-sight being 20/20!

Now to my counterpoint:

I went through the entire piece two times and some sections more than twice to understand (a) the true definition of the Westminster system of governance and (b) what about the system’s inner workings so beguiled Mr. Njonjo. Unfortunately, the article did not define what the system is nor did it illuminate why he, Njonjo, preferred it to Kenya’s current parliamentary system.

I thus did a google search on the basics of the “Westminster Model” and the search linked me to a book titled “Constitutional Conventions in Westminster Systems” by Brian Galligan and Scott Brenton. The two academicians (University of Melbourne) lay out the fundamentals of the system of government Mr. Njonjo is enamored with.

Simplified, some of the highlights of the system named after the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the British parliament, include the following:

– A head of state who functions as the constitutional holder of executive power replete with numerous reserve powers.
– A head of government (or head of the executive) known as the prime minister (PM).
– An executive branch led by the head of government usually made up of members of the legislature with the senior members of the executive in a cabinet adhering to the principle of cabinet collective responsibility.
– An independent, non-partisan civil service which advises on, and implements, decisions of those ministers. Civil servants hold permanent appointments and can expect merit-based selection processes and continuity of employment when governments change.
– A parliamentary opposition with an official Leader of the Opposition.
– A parliament which can be dissolved and snap elections called at any time.
– Parliamentary privilege, which allows the legislature to discuss any issue it deems relevant, without fear of consequences stemming from defamatory statements or records thereof
– A court system that can address silence or ambiguity in the parliament’s statutory law through the development of common law.

I will leave it up to the reader to assess whether Charles Mugane’s Kenya embodied the foregoing elements of the Westminster system he wishes Kenyans had not “abandoned”.

The notion that “the presidential system has divided us (Kenyans)….” is a weak attempt by the former MP for Kikuyu to deflect responsibility from the person (president) charged with using the office (of the president) to unite Kenyans – not line his pocket and those of family and friends. The (innate) title of the office is not responsible for the conduct of the person holding the office.

The Oval Office did not make Donald Trump the white supremacist bigot that he has demonstrated himself to be nor did it make Bill Clinton the philandering hound dog that he was – in Little Rock! America’s constitutional federal republic did not prevent Mitch McConnell from announcing that his goal was to make Barack Obama a one-term president – this days after the newly-elected POTUS had been sworn into office.

A leaked 2009 US diplomatic cable described Uhuru Kenyatta as “bright and charming, even charismatic” but warned that “Kenyatta’s liabilities are at least as important as his strengths. He drinks too much and is not a hard worker.” – this according to an August 5, 2017 issue of New Vision, Uganda’s leading daily in an article titled “Uhuru Kenyatta: from millionaire playboy to Kenyan president”. This revelations had nothing to do with the “presidential system”.

I am not sure what system of government Uganda has but whatever it is did not prevent the country’s legislators from going after one another with chairs, paper trays, mic stands fists and kicks!

Gambians recently (and finally) forced out of office, their long-time and drunk-with-power wanna-be-president-for-life Yahya Jammeh after almost one quarter century in power. The country’s presidential republic system of government did not prevent him from suppressing the media or denying women and gays their rights.

And one more example that fully illustrates the myth Charles Njonjo is perpetuating:

Angry protestors torched Burkina Faso’s parliament because its president Blaise Compaore wanted to extend his 27-year-rule. To his credit, the country’s constitution, established in 1991, allowed the “semi-presidential government” (whatever that means) flexibility to dissolve parliament – at will! Looks like Burkina Fusians had had enough of Thomas Sankara’s assassin!

The challenge I have reading Mr. Njonjo’s pontifications about the “good old days” is because of the darkness that happened under the preferred Westminster system of governance while he, Njonjo, was Jomo Kenyatta’s AG.

Said system did not prevent Jomo and his coterie from lining their pockets with public funds and resources.

So Mr. Njonjo complains about the “nuisance” that the likes of Koigi Wamwere and the “Seven Bearded Sisters” were to the government of the day. This he does even as he lauds the “excellent checks and balances” offered by the Westminster system.

Somehow the former AG does not seem to realize that the constant questioning by Koigi and his “comrades” James Orengo, Abuya Abuya, Chelagat Mutai, Chibule wa Tsuma, Mwashengu wa Mwachofi and Lawrence Sifuna WERE the “checks and balances” meant to keep the imperial and despotic presidencies of both Jomo and Moi in check – despotism and murderous rules that papered over the “divisiveness” he, Njonjo, claims is now rampant!

As for the premium on “personal relationships” the man derisively referred to as the “Duke of Kabeteshire” pines about, said attribute did not stop either of his bosses Jomo and Moi from ordering or countenancing the assassinations of Tom Mboya, JM Kariuki, Bishop Muge, Robert Ouko and a host of others.

Sorry Mr. Njonjo, it was NOT a huge mistake to abandon the Westminster model for Kenya’s governance.

This, like the BS about “Raira should ‘retire’ from politics so Kenya inaweza enda juu sana” or the banal idiocy about “prayer rallies for peace” even as ballots are stuffed and IT systems are rigged are diversions from the corrupt, incompetent and murderous leadership you, Mugane, and those you’ve served have saddled Kenyans with – since independence!

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