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12th Parliament owes it to Kenyans to put country first

By The Standard | Published Thu, August 31st 2017 at 00:00, Updated August 30th 2017 at 21:01 GMT +3

Amidst growing anxiety and acrimony, the 12th Parliament sits from today.

In their first sitting in the National Assembly and the Senate the lawmakers will be sworn in and then elect a Speaker and a deputy.

Meanwhile, a cloud of anxiety is hanging over the country over the possible outcome of a presidential petition lodged by Raila Odinga's the National Super-Alliance (NASA) candidate.

This was one reason why NASA- affiliated MPs had planned to stay away from Parliament. Their grievance was based on a misinterpretation of the law that President Uhuru Kenyatta cannot issue a notice to convene Parliament because of the case challenging his re-election.

Be it as it may, Parliament represents the sovereign will of the people. It behoves the Members to respect its symbolism. They can only do that in the manner they conduct themselves. Needless to say; their conduct must be beyond reproach. Parliament should be the touchstone of integrity and leadership and service to the country. Sadly, it hardly lives up that. It is true that the grandiose of Parliament Buildings never reflects in the men and women who walk out of those chambers.

This Parliament comes at a time when our democracy is facing great challenges. It is not yet perfect, but it is better than the alternative.

In truth, Parliament reminds us of the enduring beauty of democracy. Yet it also reminds us about what can go wrong when political parties are weak. Indeed, the weakest link in our nascent democracy is parties that are devoid of ideals and serve more as vehicles for self-promotion and self-gratification.

Democracy is about building and preserving a way of life, a culture: it is a social contract between those who govern and the governed; it is about a sense of shared common values and truths; it is about the right to demand the best from those who lead us. Most importantly, that that position is held in trust of the voters' judgment and vote.

Good parties promote this aspirations. Look around, most of our political parties are tribal conglomeration advancing narrow agenda. And even when it came to taking the vote on crucial national issues in Parliament, the party line (tribal) trumped the common good. That should end.

The ladies and gentlemen of the 12th Parliament must restore the esteem of the august House. And they have lessons to learn from: Nearly two-thirds of the 290 National Assembly Members and over 30 in the Senate were shown the door in the election. Which means unless the current lot rises to the occasion, the same fate awaits them in five years.

Two of them have already attracted infamy with their calls to disregard the salary and allowance ceiling established by the Salaries Review Commission that drastically reduces the salaries of the MPs. The petition for the recall of Kiambu Woman Rep Gathoni wa Muchomba (though inconsequential) because recalls are done after the second year, is a signal of changing times and that there is no safety in numbers.

The contention is that the ruling elite have hogged the national cake. It is atrocious that a mere 500 people can draw so much salaries and allowances from the Exchequer. This House therefore, has a chance to redeem itself. They must eschew the greed and larceny that is the abiding image of previous Parliaments.

It is the deliberation in those wonderful chambers that will matter to all Kenyans. MPs should not pursue narrow, partisan agenda that hobbles our forward progress. They should strive to make laws that improve the lives of millions of Kenyans who look up to them.

The 2010 Constitution reinforced the separation of powers and outlined the key role of the Legislature. Regrettably members of the 11th Parliament became more or less rubber stamps often at the beck and call of the Executive. That should not be let to happen. It should hold the Executive to account in cases (and there are many) where the execution of policies have been dreadful and where generally, the leadership has been misdirected.

The MPs should change the way we do our politics. In a 21st century Kenya, there is no room for predatory politics. They should foster good relations between all arms of government because that gets things moving.

It is up to these new MPs to drain hatred, partisanship, anger and tribalism out of our politics. They must also debunk the myth that in politics corruption is a smart career move to recoup and top-up what was spent to get the coveted seats and to be the first in the queue for Kenya's largesse.

If nothing else, they owe it to Kenyans to rise to the occasion and be counted as a Parliament that stood its place in our history.

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