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Senate has failed to live up to expectation

By Alexander Chagema | August 20th 2020

The acrimonious debate on the division of revenue formula casts the Senate in bad light. It gives those who have little trust in the Senate’s ability reason to believe it is, indeed, superfluous. The nine postponements of a critical debate are reminiscent of US President Theodore Roosevelt's observation that, “When they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer “present” or “not guilty”.

Elsewhere, when asked whether he prayed for senators, Edward Everett Hale, an American author-cum-historian replied: “No, I look at the senators and I pray for the country.” That is where we are as a country, held to ransom by leaders who have little regard for those who elected them. There is a general feeling that our Senate lacks bite; that, in fact, it doesn’t even have a bark left in it.

Misuse of public funds within counties has risen exponentially. On several occasions, some Members of County Assemblies have impeached governors, but came up against a brick wall in the Senate. Despite obvious sleaze within the devolved units, no governor, besides Ferdinand Waititu, has been penalised.

This makes it difficult for the Senate to explain or disprove numerous reports from the Auditor General on misuse of funds within counties. In a way, this also reinforces the growing perception among members of the public that the Senate is acting as a veritable sanitiser for corrupt governors, and the Executive has an interest in the whole business.

By the very manner of senators' conduct, either open defiance or fawning obedience, Senate has the ambiance, like the National Assembly, of having become beholden to the Executive, and therefore, its extension. About a month ago, some Jubilee senators lost their party positions through a party coup, not because they were incompetent, but rather, because of their unwillingness to toe a line adopted by a few individuals on behalf of the party. That reeks of dictatorship that is anathema in the current dispensation whose keyword is 'democracy'.

The Senate, under Kenneth Lusaka, looks timid. Unlike his predecessor Ekwe Ethuro, who often acted tough, if only to whip senators into line, Lusaka appears too cautious even when he should simply stamp his authority. The nine-time postponement of the revenue sharing formula debate detracts on what would otherwise be a good performance. Gangs of Senators pushing vested interests keep coming up with distractions that derail the revenue debate, but it is as if Lusaka doesn’t recognise it for what it is.

In the midst of the irreverent grandstanding, counties continue to suffer. Lusaka understands the type of pressure exerted on governors in their daily operations. And he should, because prior to being elected Senate Speaker in 2017, he served as the first governor of Bungoma County.

With the benefit of that knowledge, Lusaka should be empathetic to the difficulties governors go through managing county affairs on budgets that some county officials endeavour to pilfer through false claims or purchases. We all know about the ‘carcinogenic wheelbarrows’, and the embarrassment Lusaka suffered trying to defend the indefensible. Unfortunately, he seems to kowtow to the dictates of an assertive Executive.

Senators who have declined to consent to the contentious revenue formula have the justification, but their stand could be more about open defiance to the Jubilee party’s heavy handedness than a compulsion to actually do the right thing. But both ways, they gain political mileage, especially now that 2022 elections are just around the corner and political realignments will be in vogue soon.

Senators who support the revenue formula and feel emboldened enough to threaten their colleagues do so, not necessarily because they believe in its effectiveness, they do so to please their party honchos. Not surprisingly, many of the senators pitching for the contentious formula have no idea how it works.

Lusaka must do the right thing and push the Senate to a higher moral pedestal. It is in the public domain that the Jubilee Party handpicked him for the Senate Speaker's job. The Motions of going through an election process were a mere formality. That notwithstanding, Lusaka owes Jubilee nothing more than just ‘thank you’. His job is to build a strong, cohesive and functional Senate that would add value to the concept of devolution.

If Lusaka must take sides, history will judge him fairly if he chooses the side of the public. Today, Senate stands accused of subverting the spirit of devolution.

Mr Chagema is a copy editor at The [email protected]

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