BY JUSTIN MUTURI
“We, the people of Kenya….adopt, enact and give this Constitution to ourselves and to our future generations.”
I begin by being appreciative of the tremendous gains made so far in implementation of our Constitution 2010. There is this debate whether Parliament should be dissolved or not for not being able to pass the requisite pieces of legislation as required in the Constitution under Schedule 5 of our Constitution. And whereas I certainly believe we could have done better as a House, I do not think it is Parliament that should purely shoulder this blame.
In the Sixth Schedule of our Constitution, there is established a body known as the Constitution Implementation Commission (CIC). This commission, having come into office in January 2011 and whose term expires in January 2016, has a very clear mandate “…coordinating with the Attorney General and the Kenya Law Reform Commission in preparing, for tabling in Parliament, the legislation required to implement the Constitution.” (6th Schedule, Article 6; b).
Note, the Constitution says preparing for tabling in Parliament, (not elsewhere where the blame has been shifted to). A casual reading of the CIC Act tells you the momentous duty given to this body in terms of ensuring these bills are tabled in Parliament on time. In fact, CIC is supposed to report to the Parliamentary Committee responsible for Constitution Implementation the progress and impediments if any, to this implementation process.
CIC, together with the Kenya Law Reform Commission (KLRC) on the other hand, is given the mandate of formulating by means of drafting or otherwise these bills, but of course the overall supervision lies with the CIC and coordination of the Attorney General.
Now let me bring you up to speed with litany of extension periods for passage of these critical pieces of legislation:
First, the National Assembly extended by six months the period for passage of year three bills as stipulated in the Fifth Schedule. This extension came as a result of the Bills giving effect to Article 34 of the Constitution which had generated serious street activities by the media practitioners. There was no way a new House would rush the two bills – Media Bill 2013 and Kenya Information and Communications (Amendment) Bill 2013 without input from the industry players.
It was therefore necessary that the committee responsible, the Ministry of Information and Communications and the media industry players were given sufficient time to comb through the bills and agree on contentious issues before passing the bill. This was done.
Second, the year four bills. In January 2014, Parliament wrote to CIC and the Attorney General asking for bills and status of drafting of all the legislations falling under year four of Constitution implementation. You will be surprised to know three days to the deadline – by 25th of August, 2014, some of those bills like the Public Audit Bill and Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act 2014 were yet to be brought before the National Assembly. The two bills require input from both Houses of Parliament.
It became our responsibility to extend this period for a further nine months. Suffice to say, these two bills were brought before the house in December 2014. This conscious decision of extension has taken cognisance of the fact that some bills like the Fair Administration Action Bill, a fourth year bill, were yet to be heard of. This particular bill came before the House in March this year, 2015. The other year four bills had been submitted in July, barely a month before the deadline. It then becomes the failure of Parliament to pass these bills, having been crucified in the court of public opinion.
Third, let me tell you why we had to extend these deadlines for the third time this week. Seven months ago, the Leader of Majority Party (National Assembly) on a request of the House Business Committee wrote to the CIC and the AG asking for the progress in forwarding all year five bills so that the house could align its sittings and calendar early enough to pass these bills.
Suddenly, CIC and AG woke up from deep slumber and started shifting blames – oh, today it’s the Cabinet, tomorrow ministries and the other day some government entities they know of. Reason? That these are the government entities that should originate the bills. All the way up to last month, none of these entities – CIC, AG, KLRC – could authoritatively know how many pieces of legislation needed to be passed under year five timeline!
Whereas it is clear that 14 Articles of the Constitution required legislation to give effect to them, the wording of the last section of Schedule 5 is too general and subject to different interpretations, thus leading to confusion. For instance, Consumer Protection Act, which was a year three bill, and the Law for recall of MPs done in year one need amendment to make those legislations adequate and effective, according to CIC.
Trouble is, there is contention if it is CIC who should interpret whether an Act adequately satisfies the requirements of the Constitution. Parliament and myself believe that that is jurisdiction of the High Court under Article 165 of the Constitution.
All in all, we have 12 bills received last week ready for debate in the house, most of which require input from both houses of parliament. That is why this time, we extended the period for enactment by another 12 months, hoping that those who have not been keen on their duty take their mandate seriously so that we finish this business by August 27th, 2016.
I would like to give my commitment as the Speaker of the National Assembly that the House will do all that it must within the stipulated time to ensure this business is dispensed with. We shall however, not rush the process, so that we give enough time for public participation as anticipated in Article 118 of the Constitution.
It is indeed the right of any Kenyan to go to the High Court to petition the honourable judges for house dissolution, but I do not see this coming. Do not forget that such process is long and tedious, and during such a period, the house may have dispensed of with the relevant bills to avoid dissolution. Take it from me; Parliament will do its bit faithfully.
(Hon Muturi is the Speaker of the National Assembly of Kenya and President of Commonwealth Parliament Association (CPA) – Africa)