Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Blood from a stone

This is the role of the Senate according to Article 96 of the Constitution:
96. (1) The Senate represents the counties, and serves to protect the interests of the counties and their governments.
(2) The Senate participates in the law-making function of Parliament by considering, debating and approving Bills concerning counties, as provided in Articles 109 to 113.
(3) The Senate determines the allocation of national revenue among counties, as provided in Article 217, and exercises oversight over national revenue allocated to the county governments.
(4) The Senate participates in the oversight of State officers by considering and determining any resolution to remove the President or Deputy President from office in accordance with Article 145.
The Senate has not been called to consider or determine any resolution to remove the President or Deputy President from office (though it has, unnecessarily so, injected itself in the impeachment of governors without much to show for it). As an institution of Parliament, the Senate's other roles includes the protection of the Constitution and promotion of the democratic governance of the Republic (Article 94(4)).

The Senate has not been useless; it has merely failed to live up to its true potential. This is in large part to the striking lack of imagination among its more youthful members who have fallen victim to the hubris that often assails Kenyan politicians when they are elected to office. The tool of the parliamentarian, in case you are wondering, is the parliamentarian's law-making power and the power to investigate the actions of the government. The Senate has done precious little law-writing or investigating; instead, under the leadership of the Leader of the Majority Party and his minions, the Senate has done the bare minimum it could get away with without being accused of malingering.

The 2013-2017 Senate is an embarrassment. It has done little to endear itself to its true constituents. It has done precious little to protect devolution; it has focussed its attentions on a battle to supremacy with the National Assembly where it has come up short again and again. It tried to bully the Judiciary and was laughed out of the building. It tried to pit the considerable legal skills of some of its finest members and was humiliated twice by uppity governors. And now its preeminent members are panicking because the lumpen proletariat in the National Assembly is threatening to mobilise the unwashed masses to demobilise the Senate. Truly, the Senate is an embarrassment.

If members of the Senate treated Governors and county assemblies as partners instead of stepping stones to political glory, legislation would be the swiftest way for senators to make their mark. It is time they made peace with the fact that the Senate will never, ever have the high public profile that the National Assembly does. Its role is limited, and so are its powers. Individual senate constituencies are too large for an "oversight" fund to make of a difference. And the fact that the budget is an exclusive National Assembly subject means that the Senate will never get the upper hand over the Executive, national or county.

I fear though, that the Senate, its members and its mandarins will never accept the logic of their diminutive stature, constitutionally speaking, even as they proclaim in long-winded fashion that "THE SENATE IS THE EQUAL OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY!" to yawns from one and all. After all, no Kenyan has ever seen power that he didn't want to usurp and to expect political sanity from the Senate, this Senate, is to expect blood from a stone.

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