Monday, October 27, 2014

Slow, not foolish.

Representation. Legislation. Oversight. In that order. Representation: the action of speaking or acting on behalf of someone. Legislation: the act or process of making or enacting laws. Oversight: the action of overseeing something. That, at least, is what the ordinary Kenyan on the street understands the role of his elected representatives to be. he is hard-pressed to find "overseas travel" in the list of activities that would enhance representation, legislation or oversight. Anyone who suggests that any of the three functions would be enhanced by the jetting in and out of the country by the elected classes needs a serious re-education in the proper functions of legislatures.

We have come to accept the peculiarities of Kenyan institutions without questioning whether these peculiarities are ingrained or acquired. I do not subscribe to the school of thought that simply because we have done things in a certain way for years, or even decades, that we must continue to do so for the foreseeable future. For example, just because Baba Moi tried to bribe his MPs with foreign trips does not mean that we should carry on in the same vein.

Justin Muturi and Ekwe Ethuro and their deputies have let things slide. I do not see why the elected representatives sitting in parliamentary committees need to visit India, China or Malaysia to gather information in order to perform their functions when they have perfectly capable staff for that purpose. (Pictures of the chairperson of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee and an unknown woman canoodling at the Taj Mahal reinforce this point.)

If we are to make the parliamentary business more effective, the professional staff employed by Parliament (and by extension by county assemblies) must perform the bulk of the work of collecting and analysing relevant information. In other words, in addition to the State agencies that perform investigative functions, it is the staff of the parliamentary and county assembly services that must investigate or interrogate the information that parliament or county assemblies receive. If this requires foreign junkets, it is the professional staff that must travel. Elected representatives do not add value by flooding the capitals of friendly powers with a string of peculiarly Kenyan demands that are sometimes difficult to meet.

If parliamentarians and county councillors were properly informed we would not be suffering the idiocy of demands for a "men enterprise fund" or impeachment motions against governors who refuse to approve budgets that run counter to the Public Finance Management Act. Instead, we would witness semi-coherent examinations of auditors' reports, semi-intelligent interrogations of officers of the executives, and policy-driven law-making. But because they are spending so many days flying from one world capital to another, canoodling in front of tourist attractions, and doing precious little learning, we have to listen to constant justifications of why they must travel and why such travel is for our ultimate good. We may be slow, sometimes, but we are not complete idiots.

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