BY EDITORS GUILD, KUJ and KCA
The Kenya Editors Guild, Kenya Union of Journalists, and the Kenya Correspondents Association are appalled but not surprised by the passing of retrogressive and unconstitutional Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill 2014 (Adan Keynan Bill).
This Bill will deprive Kenyans of their right to follow the proceedings of Parliament and know what their representatives are doing.
The provisions are so draconian and altogether unconstitutional that a simple right to information will land journalists and members of the public in jail if they are deemed to have contravened a patently unconstitutional law.
Not only are journalists in peril for simply doing their jobs, but citizens of Kenya who use social media and other platforms to question the work of their representatives will also end up in prison for simply exercising their constitutional rights.
The bill also imposes a hefty fine, of half a million shillings, on Kenyans who are deemed to violate these retrogressive provisions.
From the moment the Bill was first drafted, the media has engaged the National Assembly in consultations that include, most memorably, a meeting with the Speaker and the top leadership of the National Assembly. These consultations seemingly proved futile.
The media and other Kenyans have been instrumental in keeping a close eye on a legislative chamber that has not covered itself in glory during this parliamentary term. Incidents of abuse of office, corruption and extortion carried out by Members of the National Assembly have become widely known through the work of media and Kenyans using other media platforms.
Some members of the House have been caught with their hands in the public purse, including filing false mileage claims of up to Sh2 million a month per individual. Many corporations and businesspeople have made credible complaints of committee members extorting bribes in the tens of millions of shillings.
Further, the Eleventh Parliament will live in infamy as being so corrupt that its key watchdog committee – the Public Accounts Committee – was disbanded on account of bribery and rent seeking.
What are Members of the National Assembly so afraid of? Is this an attempt to shield members from scrutiny by the very people who put them in office?
In the two-and-a-half year life of this House so far, this is the fourth attempt to pass legislation that limits media freedom and denies Kenyans their constitutional right to information.
We see this move as an affront to the hard-earned democratic space, and an attempt to roll back the gains of democracy Kenyans have fought so hard to secure.
The Bill as passed is unconstitutional and contravenes Articles 33, 34 and 35 of the Constitution, which entrench freedom of expression, freedom and independence of media, and the public’s right to information.
According to the process, this Bill now moves to the Senate. We hereby urge Members of the Senate to step in and restore sanity by proving themselves the voice of reason in the country’s legislative process. By its global definition, the Senate is the ultimate keeper of the conscience of the nation. We expect the Senate to live up to this reputation.
For the avoidance of doubt, we will go to any lengths to safeguard the right of Kenyans to know, and our freedom as their messengers and watchdogs to inform them.
(This statement on the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill by the Kenya Editors Guild, Kenya Union of Journalists and the Kenya Correspondents Association was issued on October 15, 2015)