MPs and Senators grapple with congestion, lack of offices

By Vitalis Kimutai

Nairobi, Kenya: Members of the expanded Eleventh Parliament and new Senate are grappling with serious challenges and inconveniences from the strained office space and common facilities.

The MPs and Senators, 418 in total, do not have sufficient offices and parking space and are overstretched on other limited shared facilities at Parliament Buildings.

Apart from the increased number of seats in the Chamber to cater for all the MPs, other facilities remain the same as before when Parliament had only 210 MPs.

Now, all MPS and Senators are fighting to get offices where they can meet their constituents, with a majority transacting their businesses in the corridors of Parliament.

When Members of only the second bicameral Parliament in Kenya’s history since Independence were sworn into office, they expected to be allocated rooms with modern facilities befi tting the title “honourable”.

The 349 MPs and 67 Senators expected to get offices in Continental House where they would not only transact business that cannot be done from the floor of the House, but would utilise state-of-the-art facilities, including a gym, swimming pool and sauna.

A total of 110 legislators are yet to be allocated offices. Leaders of the Majority and Minority parties in Parliament are being accommodated in Parliament while their equals in the Senate are at Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC).

Ms Roselinda Soipan, the Narok County Women Representative, wondered why the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) had not secured enough space for the leaders three years after the new Constitution became operational.

“At the very basic level, we need an office to operate from if we are expected to be actively involved in House debates. How are we expected to conduct our business in the corridors and car park of Parliament? It is very inconveniencing,” Soipan lamented.

Work stations

Soipan said some legislators were operating from hotel rooms, which doubled up as offices as they were yet to be given work stations.

The offices for the newcomers at Continental House were done through balloting according to the MPs as the facilities were few.

“We have been forced to operate from corridors of Parliament, the parking lot and hotels to serve our constituents and meet visitors. It is a sad case indeed that requires to be addressed urgently,” Bomet Central MP Ronald Tonui said.

Tonui wondered why it was taking so long for offices to be acquired yet it was clear after promulgation of the new Constitution in 2010 by retired President Kibaki that there would be 80 new constituencies and 47 Senators as well as Women and Youth Representatives on top of the nominated Members.

However, Senate Speaker Ekwe Ethuro said the government had been generous enough to allocate six floors at the KICC to the Senators.

“The offices have been vacated by those who were using them and they are now being refurbished in readiness for use by the Senators,” Ethuro explained.

He stated that 41 Senators who were allocated offices at Continental House would soon be moved to KICC to pave the way for Members of the National Assembly.

Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Joyce Laboso said offices secured by MPs would be inspected by the Clerk of the National Assembly.

“MPs, however, would not be allowed to rent space in buildings where they have interests as that would bring conflicts,” Laboso said.

Bahati legislator Kimani Ngunjiri argued it was unfortunate new MPs had to be subjected to such humiliation when they were expected to undertake serious legislative business.

“MPs not only require offices but staff to undertake research work and coordinate constituency activities, yet we have no place to operate from,” Ngunjiri lamented.

Tinderet legislator Julius Melly said MPs have occasionally been rained on while meeting their constituents in the car park at Parliament as most of the time the lobby is packed with people.

MPs’ offices

“Many a times, we have been forced to take cover in the corridors of Parliament when rain sets in while holding sessions with members of the public at the car park,” said Melly.

Manyatta MP Muchiri Nyaga said MPs had been asked for offices in Nairobi’s Central Business District and Upper Hill areas, which he said, were not available.

“We have been asked to get offices at (a monthly cost of) Sh45,000, which will be paid for by the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC), but we wonder; where else other than River Road can one can get rental space for that amount of money?” Nyaga asked.

He said that even in the city’s Westlands area, it would still be difficult to get decent offices for Sh100,000 a month to be used by the MPs.

Senate chamber

“We are aware that there are plans to purchase properties around Parliament that would pave the way for a parliamentary square between Hotel Intercontinental and Harambee Plaza, but before that is done, MPs are paying a huge price for lack of offices to operate from,” Nyaga said.

Nyaga complained that even if they got space in town, they would have to grapple with traffic jams, insecurity and parking problems.

Kieni legislator Kanini Kega said MPs were taking flak from the public and civil rights activists for trying to improve their welfare, yet those making noise either do not understand the tribulations the members are undergoing. 

Senators are also yet to get a proper chamber as they have been told to wait for at least six months as the old chamber is being refurbished for them. For now, they are operating from KICC on a temporary basis.

Senate Majority Leader Prof Kithure Kindiki said it is unacceptable that Senators and MPs have to operate from informal settings almost a month after being sworn in.

“Senators require adequate members of staff including researchers, policy analysts, and legislative drafters who should operate from anoffice. But now the Senators have converted their vehicles into offices,” Kindiki said.

From home

Kindiki said the same problem was replicated at the County level where, while the Governors had fully furnished offices, the Senators were yet to be allocated space with some being forced to operate from their homes.

“Senators cannot be equated with MPs because of geographical areas covered with some Counties having more than 12 Constituencies. While MPs can operate from constituency offices, Senators do not have offices,” Kindiki complained.

Prof Wilfred Lessan, the Bomet County Senator expressed confidence that the issues would be sorted out in due course.

Expansion of facilities

“We have raised the issue with Speaker and the Clerk of the Senate and they have sympathised with us and promised to fast track the process of acquiring and allocating more space,” Lessan said.

The cafeteria has also been expanded with tents being erected to accommodate the increased number of MPs and the management having resorted to serving a buffet menu throughout as opposed to ala carte menu in the previous parliament.

The car park at Continental House and Parliament is also not enough for the MPs with most of them being forced to park their vehicles outside the precincts.