By Billow Kerrow
Many Kenyans have complained that Parliament was not up to speed in operationalising the Constitution as it had failed to meet several deadlines for enactment of various legislations. In some instances, internal wrangles in the Coalition simply made it difficult for such legislation to be tabled or debated. Partisan interests by the MPs have in other instances undermined speedy enactment of Bills, leading to MPs working overtime to pass Bills with evident errors.
To their embarrassment, the President this week threw out the omnibus Statutes Law (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2012 provisions on party hopping and nomination of presidential vote losers that were ultra vires the Constitution. Several civil society groups had threatened to go to court to challenge these provisions amid public outcry. MPs failed to read public mood on matters constitutional, and were obsessed with self-preservation. Regrettably, the AG who is the principal legal advisor to the Government approved the proposals.
But it is not just in matters of the Constitution that the House is ridiculing itself these days. It is now the in-thing to throw out its own committee reports to shield its members, or to simply ignore or slight such reports for political expediency. This week, MPs rejected the Health Committee report on alleged irregularities on the rollout of the civil servants medical scheme. After spending months examining the scheme, the committee had concluded that the scheme should continue despite some irregularities in payments to certain clinics, but recommended that two ministers be investigated alongside several other State officials. I read the report and found it poorly drafted, and some of the recommendations were not supported by evidence in the main body of the report.
Nonetheless, the MPs simply threw out everything making the committee’s report an investigation that never was. Watching the debate in the House, it was clear some members, including committee members, did not even appreciate how the scheme worked. Minister Dalmas Otieno who was recommended for further investigation had to take time to explain his ministry’s involvement as the client for NHIF, and how the latter won competitively in the bid for the scheme. To some MPs, it was news that it is the Public Service ministry that owns the scheme and that NHIF was merely a contractor.
ut the Budget Committee did a good job in its report on the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for 2012/2013 of June 6. They raised major concerns on the way Treasury crafts its budget incrementally and that it is was ‘business as usual’. Specifically, the committee noted how Treasury has rendered the Budget Policy Statement a meaningless ‘document of the willing’. Printed Estimates differed substantially from the Budget Policy Statement published only nine days apart, by over Sh200 billion. Yet, the Statement ‘strengthens the link between policy, planning and allocation of resources and should inform the printed Estimates’.
They challenged the lack of fiscal responsibility that is driving the budget deficit and the resultant huge public debt, and called for a halt to budget deficit and a focus on priorities and shedding off non-priority expenditure. The committee decried the rising public debt that now stands at 51 per cent of the GDP and went on and on. However, on June 21, the House passed a vote on account for Sh424 billion without even receiving the Appropriations Bill.
And on June 28, after meeting the Treasury team to allow some adjustments by the committee, the House approved the final Appropriations Bill for the full budget, well before the start of the financial year. And in the process, the vote on account for each ministry was altogether abandoned. Well, for all their sweet report earlier, when it came to crunch time, as usual they threw in the towel.
The writer is a former MP for Mandera Central and political economist