Nobody should muzzle Parliamentary voice

September 17, 2009 12:00 am

, It is emerging that Parliament like any other State organ is a victim of power concentration in the hands of the Executive that also lacks inbuilt checks. While many  Kenyans  appreciate attempts  to restore Parliament’s  oversight and legislative role, there is one school of thought  that  believes  in the past that  the Legislature  and its leadership are  subordinates to the Executive.

The first-term House Speaker Kenneth Marende is painted as a rebel for ruling against procedure followed in re-appointing the director of the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission (KACC), retired Justice Aaron Ringera by President Mwai Kibaki. The House presiding official is, according to some lawmakers, a radical departure from hitherto compromised predecessors save for Humphrey Slade, the first Speaker in the post independent Kenya.

It is not in doubt that there are some political leaders who would not like to see an independent Legislature emerge from Executive autocracy and blackmail with an impartial person presiding over the debates.

For 35 years now, no Speaker except one, has ever ruled against the Executive desires because of intimidation and threats. Threats  notwithstanding, it  is unthinkable that  a Speaker  worth  the title  in a democracy can  go  by the  dictates  of the  Executive  for  the sake of doing so.

A no-nonsense former deputy Speaker, the late Jean Marie Seroney was a casualty of a   ruling on a matter under debate.  In the full view of other parliamentarians,  Seroney and  two  MPs  were arrested  within the  precincts of the Legislature  and detained without trial in a calculated   move   to  intimidate  Speakers  and to muzzle  parliamentary authority.

Speakers worldwide are guided by Standing Orders and the constitution, nothing else.  Marende is no exception to succumb to threats and blackmail in the exercise of his powers. To allude that  some  members  of parliament  are  special  and  cannot play  by the  House  rules    is  an affront to  democracy.

Unless  the  Constitution is  changed  to  completely de-link  the membership  of  the  Executive from  that of the  Legislature, the   president and  his Cabinet  Ministers  are bound by the  Standing Orders and Rules of the  House. Only elected parliamentarians in a general election   take up   Cabinet positions or the presidency but not vice versa.

Sycophants of the yesteryears often   argue that the Legislature is theoretically supreme and independent but in practice it is not because the president can dissolve and prorogue it any time. Successive presidents have prorogued parliaments in a crisis  and even imprisoned  critics.  A Constitutional amendment that seeks to free the Legislature  from  Executive stranglehold  has been  frustrated by   the Executive and its backbench  cronies.

In as a much as we would like to believe that the president may be at fault in some of his   decisions, members of parliament share the blame for impunity. Indeed, the lawmakers are aware  that  the alteration  of administrative  and electoral units  is a  constitutional  issue often preceded by a population and household census conducted  once in every ten years.

Because of political interests, no MP has challenged the decision to convert constituencies into districts. Even one MP  who challenged  former President Daniel  arap  Moi  for the  illegal  creation of districts  had to change tune  soon after  Moi  retired and Kibaki  took over.  He dropped the court case because one of their own was now in power.

The belated Census in 2009  has just  been concluded and the  Boundaries  Review  Commission is yet to take off  but President Kibaki has been creating districts until a  court  ruled  against the  decision.

Kenyans are anxious  to see a better country  free of manipulation and intrigues  in the new political dispensation in which organs  compliment roles of each  other  while they operate  independently  and also  check  each other. That is a heavy assignment   entrusted to the Committee of Experts on the Constitutional Review that is already grappling with political party interests on the structures of state organs.

The experts would do us proud by ignoring political parties in their deliberations and restructure the organs  in the best  way possible.  For instance,  they should  take cognizance of the  fact that  parliament will not be accountable  without a second chamber, the  executive  will  overstep its  role  without separation of government from state and  the  judiciary  will  not  operate independently without the introduction of the Supreme  Court.

(The  writer is a former cabinet minister and  secretary general of two major political parties, Kenya  African National  Union  and  Liberal Democratic Party.  Email: [email protected]


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