Saturday, July 13, 2013

Parliament must play its proper role.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Parliament is getting it wrong about the role it is supposed to play in the Government of Kenya. The job of a legislature in a liberal democracy, in addition to making laws, is to keep a check on the Executive. Kenya's parliament is supposed to check the excesses, potential or otherwise, of the National Executive, and to a limited extent, those of the county governments. So far Parliament has been asleep at the wheel, mostly because the National Assembly is not interested in the activities of the National Executive but in the mundane political combat that animates the national press and, by extension, the voting zombies of Kenya.

The leaders of the Majority and Minority parties have forgotten that one of their principal jobs is to ensure that what the National Executive does is done lawfully and for the benefit of the peoples of Kenya.  It is not the job of the Majority Leader to flower-girl the National Executive at every turn; nor is that of the Minority Leader to constantly whinge about his position in parliamentary committees and whether he is being given his rightful due in parliamentary decision-making. When a Member of the National Assembly asks a question regarding something that the National Executive has done, that question can only be properly answered if the relevant Cabinet Secretary or Principal Secretary addresses it before the relevant Committee. Once a Committee "investigates" a matter the next logical step is a resolution or a Bill that addresses the matter that was investigated by the Committee. What we have witnessed over the past one hundred days is the Leader of the Majority Party behaving as if the National Executive and the National Assembly are Siamese Twins sharing a brain.

There is nothing unlawful for the Majority Party to be in lock-step with the National Executive. But it waters down the democratic fibre of the government. The National Assembly, largely, is the only institution that can check the National Executive because of its power to censure the members of the National Executive. For example, the civil society is good at exposing the corruption that festers in the underbelly of the government, but it is the National Assembly that can do something about it. The job that the National Assembly has done so far of assisting the President or his National Executive in his campaign against corruption has been a very shoddy one. It has refused to revise the anti-corruption law or strategy in order to assist the men and women in the front-lines of the war against the seemingly intractable problem that has bedeviled Kenya for two decades. It has not bothered to summon the Cabinet Secretary of the Interior, the Attorney-General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Inspector-General of Police or the Directors of the Kenya Anti-corruption Commission to find out why the fight against corruption seems like a never-ending losing battle. Instead, the Members of the National Assembly seem to be personifying the very same corruption that it is supposed fight. The recent revelations that members of the Parliamentary Service Commission would rather spend taxpayers' monies on foreign junkets for furniture rather than promote Kenyan entrepreneurs willing and able to provide the same furniture at a fraction of the price.

We have been here before. Every year when the Members of Parliament, at the start of  their parliamentary terms, demand ever higher salaries, it has nothing to do with the rigours of representing the peoples of Kenya or their needs. It is always about the lining of their pockets for diminishing returns to the National Treasury or the people. It is why the Minority and Majority Leaders do not have time to keep an eye on the National Executive, except when it directly affects their bottom line. Their needs are more important than those of the men and women that sent them to Parliament. It is why the Government of Kenya remains the least effective institution. Until it is held to account, until its officers' feet are held to the fire, our governance will remain a disappointment.

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