By Billow Kerrow
The more things change, the more they remain the same. This week provided a stark reminder of this galling adage of the conformists. MPs made a raft of changes to the Political Parties Act and the Elections Act that sought to reverse gains in the new dispensation. The move serves to short-change Kenyans’ aspirations and rekindle the dying ebb of impunity in public leadership. In Parliament, Finance Minister Njeru Githae circumvented constitutional provisions and drew half his budget provisions, as tactless MPs marvelled at his prowess and largesse.
They tried, unsuccessfully, to amend the law to allow presidential candidates to simultaneously vie for other elective seats, for soft landing. The MPs however passed amendments that would see these presidential candidates included in party lists for nominated seats.
This amendment may be challenged in court as the seats are specifically reserved for the minorities, the disabled, the youth and the marginalised; and certainly not political rejects. If you go for the top seat, be prepared to go home if you lose and graze cattle, as they do in the US or Europe. We cannot reward failures. If candidates cannot stand the heat, they should get out of the kitchen.
The House also passed amendments allowing MPs to defect across political parties until two months before the election. Of course, political parties in Kenya are now nothing more than political vehicles for elective posts during campaigns, after which they are dumped. It is fashionable to change parties as often as you change diapers, as ideology does not count anymore. Our party affiliations are about how deep the pocket is, and generosity of its benefactor’s runs. If you don’t like a party, you can ship out, but not days to the election after one loses in the primaries.
MPs unwittingly shot themselves in the foot though, when they raised academic qualifications for parliamentary and other elective offices to university degree. Most do not read the Bills before the House, and merely vote. It is this group, numbering over 80 MPs, that realised too late that they voted themselves into retirement. President Kibaki should not entertain their belated attempt to retract the amendment. The case for university qualification is overdue. A nation cannot grow a vibrant democracy and achieve an emerging economy status when its leadership is incompetent. Quite often, we have seen some of our MPs express profound ignorance about important national blueprints such as Vision 2030, let alone understand complex reports they come across daily in their oversight role over the Executive. There are also the many fraudulent transactions of the Anglo-Leasing, Goldenburg, Tokyogate or FPE scams type they purport to investigate.
And even more significant is their new role in recruiting and/or vetting senior public appointments; they have been poring over university degree qualifications and professional experiences of the interviewees and announcing ‘meritorious’ appointments. MPs will need to engage over-skilled technocrats, and highly educated and sophisticated public workforce in their duties. From next year, they will be required to hold to account a front bench of professionals and technocrats. Clearly, they will not be equal to the task if they are not schooled. True, leadership skills and integrity are not resident in graduates. Many academics in Parliament have only proved their mediocrity through sycophancy and unparalleled ignorance of national good. Well-heeled elite have only perfected professional misconduct and engaged in brazen raid of the public conscience. The public will be forgiven if they do not notice the difference between these learned MPs and those they want to bundle out. Nonetheless, MPs must lead from the front. They encourage learning in their constituencies, and vote the largest cash for education. They must not encourage mediocrity. That amendment must stand.
All the other changes need to be reversed, and quickly. The President must not allow what was a great political dispensation he midwifed to be rubbished by a political elite driven by unbridled greed.
The writer is a former MP for Mandera Central and political economist