NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 21 – Most Members of Parliament (MPs) were satisfied with President Mwai Kibaki’s speech at the opening of the 3rd session of Parliament on Tuesday afternoon, saying it addressed the country’s immediate concerns.
Agriculture Minister William Ruto lauded his remarks on reforms saying his emphasis on the urgent need to deal with land, judicial and among others constitutional reforms, set pace for Parliament to seriously work towards giving Kenyans the changes they expect.
“The reform agenda laid out for this session of Parliament is comprehensive in my opinion. The President was very clear that this time round we are going to address ourselves to the issues of reforms and it’s not just going to be talk, that is very key,” he said.
The Minister stated that the government’s plan to source for jobs especially for the youth was a key challenge that required the concerted efforts of MPs.
Mr Ruto further echoed sentiments on agriculture and food security, saying a shift from rain-fed agriculture to irrigation agriculture was a favourable option since the rains were unreliable.
Offering farmers with affordable seedlings and fertilizers was also a strong point that Mr Ruto believed would go a long way in arresting the food shortage.
Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara described the speech as attractive but said it would be useless if there was no implementation of policies.
“Like the Agenda Item number four, we are always talking about reforms but we are too way behind,” he said.
He expressed that differences within the political class were a hindrance to achieving several goals set by the government.
Former Justice Minister Martha Karua said that though she liked the content, she was not happy with the President’s view of increasing the number of magistrates and judges.
She further pointed out that increasing the budgetary allocation was misplaced, since judicial reforms were about discipline and accountability to the people.
“It’s not about money and hiring more judges, there was mere flattery with the judicial reforms in the speech and I do not share the view that they need constitutional reforms. Matters about accountability in the judiciary do not need to wait for the constitution,” she said.
Truly a different session
Despite women MPs being allowed to go to Parliament with their handbags, many other changes were evident.
For the first time, except for the Members of the National Assembly, no one else was allowed to carry mobile phones into the chambers.
Despite pleas by journalists to be allowed to carry their phones to send their stories, security personnel said, “You either keep your phone and go away, or you leave your phone here and go into the chambers.”
Unexpectedly, journalists had to oblige and leave their phones.
Security was tight as officers scrutinised identification documents despite the invitation cards given.
It was also a unique session with Ms Karua’s comeback to the opposition side, alongside Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto. Her Narc Kenya counterpart Danson Mungatana also comfortably joined in.
Speaking after the State Opening, Ms Karua said sitting in the opposition side didn’t feel any different since she had been there for 10 years.
She also said she would competitively perform her role of serving the country.
“Asking me how it feels is really not right on the spot, I have been a member of opposition longer than I have been in government, it doesn’t matter where you sit, it is your input. I intend to play my role,” she said.
Most of the 199 MPs who attended Tuesday’s opening of Parliament were attentive during the President’s and the Speaker’s speeches.
The issue of the tussle between Kenya and Uganda over the Migingo Island elicited excitement when President Kibaki promised that the government would defend its territories though diplomatically.
Religious leaders in their prayers called for peace, unity and strength even as the country was going through touch economic times, worsened by famine and a food shortage.
They also prayed for the political class to shun selfish interests and draw their focus on addressing issues that were affecting the nation.
The reception after the State Opening was easy going as the political class went beyond political differences and mixed freely.