Happy Birthday to Kenya’s Constitution

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BY JUSTIN MUTURI

“We, the people of Kenya….adopt, enact and give this Constitution to ourselves and to our future generations.”

I wish to join Kenyans in commemorating the promulgation of our Constitution, five years after we gave to ourselves a new constitutional order to be the primary reference document of our governance. Several key things happened with the promulgation of this constitution on August 27th, 2010, one of them being a complete shift in the governance structure, instituting a devolved system of governance that has since March 2013 elections defined how money is spent, how development is spread and how the country is run.

To all Kenyans, congratulations on this five-year milestone. It may seem meager, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We may have whatever challenges, indeed like any other democracy around the world, but I am certain that as a nation we shall get there.

So, as the head of an institution which represents the people and that which is a critical arm of government, can I say that the 11th Parliament has lived to its billing under the new constitutional order? My answer would be yes and no, and I will be very honest and candid with you.

The 11th Parliament came into life at a critical stage in budget making cycle of our nation, and it took us a very short period before the challenges of bicameralism were evident. Soon, rather than later, the National Assembly and the Senate embroiled in a needless tussle on the Division of Revenue Bill. Governors and County Assemblies were sucked in, the National Executive also taking the heat.

This year, as we passed the third Division of Revenue Bill, I can confidently say both houses have learnt to make use of the constitutional provision of mediation, because such a stalemate is anticipated and addressed under articles 112 and 113 of our constitution. Three years later, both houses have learnt important lessons and dialogue given a chance and indeed resolved many issues.

This is not without a challenge, as mediation remains a threat to passage of critical pieces of legislation, because while at it, we should never forget that it can be lost. I have committed myself as a person to ensure that such delays are resolved speedily. I walk across the building to my counterpart in the senate in case there is a disagreement so as to quickly dispense of with such matters. We both understand the importance of dispute resolution, and we have agreed as a principle that disagreements between houses of parliament shall not hold the country to ransom. So, yes, we have faltered at some point, but yes, we have lived to our expectation.

Turning now to the critical matter of oversight, I sincerely feel we have done a good job here, but we will still do more. At the turn of the year, I wrote a piece on the house matters for the year, and I cautioned ravenous leaders against engaging in money minting escapades during exercise of oversight duties. Months later, the country was treated to endless drama in the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Again, we navigated the sensitive issue in the best way we could, suspending the entire committee, conducting an inquiry into the possibility of abuse of privilege and implemented the inquiry recommendations by reconstituting the committee.

I perfectly understand when people feel angry at our leaders; throw words sometimes and express our hatred for parliament. It is because of such misadventures. But as a country, we cannot afford to lose sight of the future. Our strength lies in navigating and resolving such matters and moving forward together as a country. Yes, you may have felt let down, and your elected representatives may have trespassed the provisions of Chapter Six of our constitution in your own estimation, but we once again lived the dream of the founders of our nation by resolving the issue amicably.

Even as oversight work remains in committees after a false start with the Committee of the whole House that was to grill Cabinet Secretaries, I feel we have new grounds to cover in public participation. Articles 118 / 119 elaborately entrench the citizens in the law making functions of parliament through public participation. We have done serious public engagements on bills and vetting of presidential appointees, but a lot more can be done.

National Assembly deliberates and resolves issues of concern to the people in regard to Article 95(2) of our constitution. It is difficult to imagine members of parliament can resolve much if any, of the issues affecting the people they represent without the Constituency Development Fund, CDF. I therefore believe the ruling by the High Court would set elected leaders against their people. We urgently need to do what we must in the most legal way to ensure CDF is not scrapped. This, together with the gender rule of Article 81(b) of the constitution need immediate resolution.

Finally, we have as the 11th Parliament passed 12 pieces of legislation giving effect to various provisions of the constitution, but now remain with several other bills to pass. I have seen some misinformed quarters blame parliament for the delays, of which I believe there could be other motivations because Parliament does not originate most bills. The last two weeks alone, we have received 12 bills that are expected to be passed by 27th of August, 2015. It is practically impossible, but parliament will do its bit.

About 14 articles of the constitution have not been fully actualized, mostly because requisite amendments to the existing laws have not been made. We expect in the weeks and months ahead to engage various institutions and have this done. Happy anniversary!

(Hon. Justin Muturi is the Speaker of the National Assembly of Kenya and President of CPA Africa)

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