Over the last few days Kenyans have ridiculed the idea that MPs could be bribed with Sh10,000. This was for good reason. If we table the ethics and legality of bribing MPs for a minute, it is worth noting that the men and women that represent us in the National Assembly earn upwards of Sh1 million a month. It is also worth remembering that the whole point of paying our legislators enormous sums was so that they would be immune to petty bribery and be able to attend to needs of their constituents. But as it turns out, our legislators’ base instincts cannot be sanitised through higher pay.
In moments like this we ought to remember that Parliament has not always been State House’s lapdog or a cesspool of corruption. It is Parliament that in 1965 forced the executive to be honest about the East African Corporation. It is also Parliament that in 1975 conducted an inquiry into the murder of J M Kariuki, the results of which spared not even aides close to President Jomo Kenyatta. Even under Moi Parliament would every now and then show glimpses of its institutional autonomy. Which is why it is doubly disappointing that under a more democratic dispensation and with the most robust powers that the institution has ever had, our current legislators and Parliament’s leadership can do little more than grovel for a few pieces of silver.
This is yet another blot on the legacy of Parliament’s leadership. It is the leadership that has allowed individual legislators to care little for their constitutional duties, and focus instead on exploiting their position to solicit bribes from targets of their probe.
Parliament’s leadership bears responsibility for two main reasons. First, given the nature of our politics, there is only so much that voters can do in screening for leaders of high integrity. We simply cannot rely on the electoral system to generate the legislators we want. Parliament’s leadership must provide the needed guardrails to keep MPs in check. Second, a lot that goes on in Parliament is rules-based and not directly governed by the Constitution. Parliament can simply change its Standing Orders in ways that would materially impact its everyday functions, including the conduct of individual legislators. The leadership of the National Assembly has the power to influence the specific rules that get incorporated in the Standing Orders.
So let us not beat about the bush. Corruption in the corridors of Parliament is a symptom of the failures of the Speakers of the Senate and the National Assembly, as well as the majority leaders.
Allegations in Parliament also touch on our leaders’ ability to think beyond the here and now. The idea that legislators would take a Sh10,000 bribe should tell us a lot about the quality of leaders we have from throughout the country. Are these the same leaders that are supposed to scrutinise budgets and foreign commercial engagements worth billions of shillings? Can we trust these same leaders to come up with laws and policies that will guide Kenya? In the final analysis, mediocre leaders are bound to preside over mediocre societies.
- The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University