, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 11 – The controversial Special Tribunal Bill on post-election violence ran into fresh trouble on Wednesday, when debate was cut short barely after it had started due to a quorum hitch in Parliament.
When Central Imenti MP Gitobu Imanyara moved debate on the Bill after morning question time, the number of MPs in the chamber began dwindling, setting the stage for a series of hitches.
As Mr Imanyara concluded his comments, he called out to Kisumu Town West MP Olago Oluoch to second the Bill; he was nowhere to be seen and Garsen MP Danson Mungatana – who is also a lawyer – was beckoned to step in and save the day.
Although unprepared, Mr Mungatana successfully seconded the Bill and Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim opened the floor for debate. Mr Mungatana urged his fellow lawmakers to pass the Bill to ensure an end to impunity in the country.
"These Kenyans who are victims are looking to us today, it is time for us to rise to the moment and listen to the cries of the people in the countryside; they want to see those behind the violence face justice; it is important to provide leadership," he said.
Kuria MP Dr Wilfred Machage took to the floor to contribute to the debate but had hardly spent a few minutes on the floor when the attention of the Speaker was drawn to a lack of quorum in the chamber.
"When International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo was here the two principals for whom I have great respect, put on a brave face and said that they cannot allow Mr Ocampo to take up prosecution of those suspected to have financed and planned the election violence, they just remained mum," Dr Machage said.
But Gwassi MP John Mbadi disrupted debate saying: "There is no quorum and I don’t think it is adequate enough to give this Bill enough attention."
At the time, only 18 lawmakers were in the House. As is procedure, the division bell was rung but the requisite 30 MPs could not be mustered for debate to continue.
Mr Imanyara later told journalists that some powerful politicians had hijacked the Bill with an aim of ensuring that it flops in Parliament.
"This is sabotage. The government is trying to use all means to sabotage and ensure that we don’t succeed in establishing the local tribunal. That is why they are taking Cabinet Ministers to the Coast (for a retreat), and then they will keep sending them to conferences just to make sure we flop," he said.
Mr Imanyara called on the President and Prime Minister to rally MPs to support the Bill which he said is complementary to the ICC. The International Court has in the past said it will prosecute those found highly responsible for the violence.
"Passing this Bill will strengthen our sovereignty and show critics and detractors that we are not a failed state but a state that is able, ready and willing to regulate her own affairs," Mr Imanyara said.
A number of MPs are sceptical of the Special Tribunal saying they would rather have perpetrators tried at The Hague. They argued that it was Mr Imanyara who lobbied them to reject the original Bill which had been sponsored by the government earlier this year.
"We want Mr Imanyara to tell us what has changed, he came and told us that our Judiciary is not up to the task… our institution cannot be trusted. We just came from a war and we still think the country has not yet healed; the wounds are still fresh," Mutito MP Kiema Kilonzo told journalists after debate aborted.
Some MPs say that some of those likely to be prosecuted hold immense influence among their communities.
"You remember what happened during (South African President) Jacob Zuma’s anti-graft trial where one community packed the hearings. What is to prevent that from happening here, we are still healing and we don’t want a repeat of last year’s events," said Mr Kilonzo.
Meanwhile, a cross section of civil society organizations has called on MPs to expeditiously debate and pass the Bill.
International Centre for Policy and Conflict Programmes Director Ndung’u Wainaina said that this is the only effective way to seek justice.
"This is a historical moment for people of Kenya which must not be lost to take steps and decisively end the historical cycle of impunity that has given rise to massive suffering of individuals and community," he stated.
The Bill, which requires a two-thirds majority in the House to sail through, is due back in Parliament next Wednesday since debate as already began.