By Stephen Makabila and Jacob Ng’etich
Kenya: Power consolidation and safe-guarding the shaky devolution process in the 47 counties have been listed top among the priorities of the Senate that has now fully settled down for business, after formation of all the 11 committees that followed a two-day induction in Naivasha over the weekend.
It’s now an open secret that senators feel the 10th Parliament, which developed their Standing Orders weakened the Senate, and the remedy is to amend the law to strengthen the Upper House.
“There is no way the National Assembly is going to veto Bills passed by the Senate. Amendments to our Standing Orders could come early to give the Senate the clout it deserves,” says Elgeyo Marakwet Senate Kipchumba Murkomen.
Taita-Taveta Senator Dan Mwanzo, also, says the Standing Orders that were developed by the 10th Parliament have to be fine-tuned for effectiveness of the Senate.
“After fine-tuning the Standing Orders, nothing will stop the Senate from ensuring the success of the devolved units. It’s our burden to ensure county governments take off well and succeed,” Mwanzo told The Standard at the Naivasha meeting.
Mombasa County Senator Omar Hassan had on the first day of the Naivasha meeting said it was only logical that Senate comes second in command after the Presidency, given its oversight role.
Hassan said the 10th Parliament deliberately watered down the functions and role of the Senate to undermine it.
“The Senate should take its rightful role and position in the hierarchy of power. It comes second after the Presidency, but MPs in the 10th Parliament deliberately undermined it,” he said.
Senate Speaker David Ekwe Ethuro argued that the only way to give the Senate political legitimacy is for senators to appreciate their role in matters of national importance and the place of that House in the country’s governance.
Article 96 of the Constitution provides that the Senate will participate in making laws by considering, debating and approving Bills concerning counties.
The Senate also has the mandate to determine the allocation of revenue among counties (Article 217) and exercise oversight role over the allocation of national revenue to the county governments.
The Senate will also participate in the oversight of State officers and will have the final say in a resolution of the National Assembly to impeach the President and the Deputy President.
At the Naivasha retreat, Ethuro challenged senators to initiate new legislations on the floor of the Senate, which he termed ‘a centre of national equilibrium’.
Last week, Senate Majority leader, Kithure Kindiki had pointed out the heavy legislative work pending before the House.
Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale says the most urgent work for the Senate would be to clear constitutional Bills whose deadline is August 27, this year.
“Such Bills have to be fast-tracked. Prof Kindiki spoke as a Leader of Government Business in the Senate, but we know such Bills are urgent and have to be dealt with as a matter of priority,” added Dr Khalwale.
Khalwale also hinted the Senate would deal with legislative matters to do with the current confusion facing devolved units and flaws in the Constituency Development Fund Act as pointed out by the Constitution Implementation Commission.
“We, as senators, have noted the level of unrest among governors and the issues that have raised can only be addressed through legislation. We have equally noted agitation by MPs to amend the CDF Act but we are in agreement with CIC over the flaws it pointed out,” added Khalwale.
Mwanzo, the Taita-Taveta senator, concurs, saying the Senate was going to sort out the mess on how devolved funds have to be used in an era of devolved system of government.
On devolution, senators are keen to ensure county governors become the overall centres of power in the counties.
Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji says rivalry between county commissioners and governors on who is superior was a teething problem that has to be fixed.
“You cannot run a county without the presence of the central government, but governors have to be senior to county commissioners because they are directly elected by the people,” says Haji, a former career administrator.
Machakos Senator Johnstone Muthama says some people in Government were sabotaging devolution and the Senate was already aware of that.
“County commissioners were appointed without consultation. If they have to stay, they should be answerable to elected governors who have the people’s mandate,” added Muthama.
At the Naivasha meeting, Senate Clerk Jeremiah Nyegenye pointed out that for senators to effectively represent interests of the counties and defend the devolved governance structures they must be fully aware and informed on their roles, powers and functions outlined in the Constitution.
And according to Kindiki, the Senate should be the chief mobiliser for resources, for counties apart from being the link between devolution and nationhood.
He says the country must strike the critical balance between devolved units being autonomous enough but operate within the Constitution, which is the supreme law.
“We want the Senate to operate above party politics as the Upper House. It has to provide guidance to the country even as it focus on protecting the devolution process and ensuring the successful take-off of county governments,” added Kindiki.
Kindiki is backed by Khalwale, who says, “If there is a feeling something is above board, we senators cannot oppose or criticise it for the sake of party politics or personal interests.”
All the 47 county assemblies kicked off their sittings last week while governors are in the process of formulating their county Executive committees. Most of the counties have advertised slots ranging between eight and ten for their executives.
However, real development work could start from the next financial year (2013/2014), when they receive their first allocations as per the constitutional dictates.
After the Naivasha induction, senators returned to Nairobi where they have now approved all the 10 committees of the House that were pending after earlier approval of the House Rules and Business Committee.
Senate Majority Chief Whip Beatrice Elachi and Minority Chief Whip Muthama, said names of those to sit on the committees had been finalised by Saturday.
Elachi said seven of the committees were standing committees while three are sessional, whose membership can be changed after every session of the House.
The sessional committees include that on Devolution, Legislation and Implementation.
In what was seen as avoiding divisions between CORD and Jubilee coalitions, Ethuro directed members constituting the committees to decide on who become chairpersons.