, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 12 – “I will be the last person in independent Kenya or any other jurisdiction to ever contemplate to put in place caps or limitations that will impair the right to inform taxpayers,” were the opening comments by Eldas MP Adan Keynan as he addressed a news conference to explain his decision to drop controversial amendments to the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill.
Keynan was a marked man after his amendments were interpreted as an effort to muzzle reporting from Parliament, drawing harsh criticism from the media fraternity and also within the August House.
When he made the proposals, he was adamant he would have the last word whether amendments to restrict reportage on parliamentary business would sail through or not, but on Monday, the legislator cut the figure of a man subdued, sagging under the immense weight of pressure as an architect of draconian attempts to gag the press.
Pressed on his change of heart, Keynan branded himself as a “messenger of the Parliamentary Service Commission” saying he had taken body blows on behalf of his superiors who had left him to bear the cross.
“Since the Bill has been published quite a number of individuals who were part and parcel of the content, I think have decided to be populist and some have dissociated themselves from the content,” he said.
“In this particular case I want to repeat I was a conveyor belt, at times you know the messenger is hammered. So I have decided even as a messenger to act within my right and now that the Bill has my name do what is necessary.”
The Keynan’s Bill sought to introduce a crime of defamation of Parliament and criminalising publishing of what in the judgement of the Speaker or Committee chairman would amount to be false or scandalous libel on Parliament.
Speaker Justin Muturi who is also the PSC Chairman ruled out the possibilities of enacting laws that could rein in the freedom of the media by penalising journalists who report on parliamentary proceedings without permission.
The Editors Guild and the Kenya Parliamentary Journalists Association opposed the clauses saying a prescribed Sh500,000 fine or two-year jail term for journalists found guilty of contravening the provision had the effect of intimidating journalists.
They said the provision for an offence called “defamation of Parliament” could bring back – through the back door – criminal libel where journalists were held criminally responsible and jailed or fined for perceived defamation.
Keynan insists that the intention of his Bill is to enhance the powers of the National Assembly and Senate because the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act, Cap 6, the current law on this subject does not envisage a bi-cameral Parliament.
KPJA chairperson Roselyn Obala welcomed the decision and called on MPs to support the reformed Bill.
In a statement, Obala said the media will continue to play its watchdog role and hold legislators to account as guaranteed in the Constitution.
“The move by the Bill sponsor is welcomed and timely. As an association, our members will continue to partner with Parliament and most importantly report objectively. We will not shy away from exposing members shortcomings, continue to inform the public of the happenings and also put leaders in check,” she said.
The media was opposed to clauses 27, 34 and 35 which were the first two will be withdrawn when the Bill comes up for debate.
Section 27(1) states: “A person shall not broadcast, televise or otherwise transmit by electronic means the proceedings of a House, a committee of Parliament or any part of those proceedings except by order or under the authority of relevant Speaker or chairperson of a committee of Parliament …”.
The Commission for Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) chaired by Charles Nyachae has written to the National Assembly clerk Justin Bundi indicating that 23 clauses in the Bill were unconstitutional and needed amendments before passing into law. CIC cited creation of the offence of “defamation of Parliament” saying it could be used to curtail freedom of expression.
The media viewed the inclusion of the clause as “an attempt to introduce a police State.”