Is Parliament ceding ground to the Executive?

Last week, Governor Sonko took charge of a Senate Committee sitting that was convened to grill him
Speaker Muturi protests the trend of MPs attending meetings as “friends of the committee” to show solidarity with their cronies being investigated.

Parliament is seemingly losing its independence as it focuses mainly on implementing the Executive agenda without questions.

Though the Constitution gives the Legislature powers to independently discharge its mandate on behalf of the people, events of previous months show a dangerous trend where MPs have even ignored public outcry on a number of issues.

The more worrying scenarios are when MPs are publicly lectured by those they are supposed to oversight like Cabinet Secretaries (CSs), Principal Secretaries (PSs), governors and top government officials.

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Last week, for instance, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko took charge of the Senate Devolution Committee, fielding questions instead of being grilled on the delay in nominating his deputy and having a properly constituted Cabinet.

As if this was not enough, Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata differed with his colleagues openly at the committee hearing, faulting them for not passing necessary legislation to provide grounds for nominating a deputy governor to replace Polycarp Igathe who resigned on January 31, 2018.

And the inability, or unwillingness, of the Health Committee to investigate Sh38 billion medical equipment leasing by the national government has prompted Senate Deputy Speaker Kithure Kindiki to call for reconstitution of its leadership.

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The team chaired by Senator Michael Mbito (Trans Nzoia) did not sit to discuss the matter, which some governors have loudly complained about, claiming the deal was shrouded in secrecy.

The concerns are not unique to the Senate. National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi has cautioned members against being cosy with 'witnesses'.

It was so rampart that at some point, Interior CS Fred Matiang’i lectured one of the committees he appeared before, yet the chair failed to cite him as a hostile witness.

In a rare dressing-down, Muturi said some MPs were taking their committee responsibilities lightly and ordered the House Director of Committees to keenly follow attendance of meetings.

Muturi protested a growing trend of MPs attending meetings as “friends of the committee” to show solidarity with their cronies being investigated.

“Don’t be a friend of the committee merely because a person from your village is appearing,” he said.

The 12th Parliament has been on the spotlight over turf wars and lack of teeth to oversight the Executive, Judiciary, independent offices and commissions.

“There is a common misconduct of members hugging and having hearty engagements with witnesses before and after sessions. The seriousness of the matters being discussed in committees must be seen in the manner that members treat and engage the witnesses,” said National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale.

Minority Leader John Mbadi told colleagues that when they get into committees, they are supposed to safeguard the interests of the House, not “rent-seeking”.

“State officers must conduct themselves in a manner that avoids conflict of interest or demeans their offices,” said Mbadi.

Political analyst Herman Manyora says the MPs ceded ground a long time ago.

“From the word go, Parliament does not want to occupy its space provided to it by the Constitution as the most powerful of the three arms of government,” says Manyora.

He says if MPs took charge through legislation and oversight, nothing would go wrong in the country’s leadership.

“The MPs can even tell the Judiciary what to do. They can tell the Judiciary, for example, to decide a case within six months because they have more power,” he says.

“They can tame the Executive. They are the ones who allocate funds, and should supervise how such funds are spent.”

On Friday, during the second National Assembly leadership meeting in Mombasa, attended by Matiang’i and National Intelligence Service (NIS) boss Maj Gen Philip Kameru, the MPs blocked the media from a session reportedly to discuss security withdrawal of ‘Tangatanga’ leaders.

It is reported that Kameru gave a four-hour presentation, but MPs have remained tight-lipped on the deliberations.

But Manyora says the problem started when Jubilee Party nominated the House leadership and committee chairs from State House.

He says if MPs were assertive, no witness would have the guts to lecture them.

“You talk like that and they impeach you. So why does Matiang’i lecture them? Because he knows they are useless!” he says.

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