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William Ruto's address to MPs set a bold start, he must keep eye on target

President William Ruto when he addressed a joint sitting of the 13th Parliament. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

An occasion such as this week’s State opening of Parliament is an opportunity for the newly inaugurated President to give a telescope of his visionary and missionary agenda to the country.

But it should also give hope for a wholesome fresh start. The new President has brought closer, and made clearer, his dream for the nation. Hopefully, he will breathe life into this dream. 

President William Ruto has lobbied Parliament to buy into his broad agenda, through enabling legislation and allocation of funds. The true test, however, will be in specific Bills and what they seek to achieve. For now, beyond the broad-brush capsule of the future, not much can be expected, or done.

The President has given Kenyans his personal vision of tomorrow. It has not even been tested through the Cabinet, or workshopped in other relevant state policy organs. The thoughts are, accordingly, still raw, a condensed version of his election campaign manifesto. 

It is an irony of sorts, that Parliament is addressed on what the Executive proposes to do, when the Executive does not exist. Just like the address itself, its reception should remain tentative. We can neither embrace it too hard, nor condemn it too hard. It is only a raft of random thoughts and so too should be the reception. Parliament is expected to complete formation of the Executive, by vetting Cabinet nominees. Only then can serious government business begin. It is good, nonetheless, to hear the President’s personal dream for his country.  

This week’s address to Parliament was uncharacteristically short compared to previous ones. It seemed to end abruptly. The audience was possibly still waiting for more. President Ruto promised to say more in coming days. Just as well. Precision and concision is what should inform these addresses.

Past efforts have sometimes been characterised by platitudes and prolix. They have been crafted to impress, rather than to express. The promissory messaging has vaporised, almost as soon as it has left the messenger’s lips. The 2013 messages on a brave new digital world went that way.

The 2022 address has been bold in its own ways. Hopefully, it will not vaporise like those before it. Issues of accountability stand out, even while not delved into in depth. They provide scope for further reflection. Can Cabinet Secretaries come to the floor of Parliament to address members’ concerns? Article 125 of the Constitution opens an avenue for such possibility. 

It reads in part, ‘Either House of Parliament, and any of its committees, has power to summon any person to appear before it for the purpose of giving evidence or providing information.’

If there is a will in Parliament, it will be done. Parliament should be willing to embrace new ideas, including on how it does its business. It must raise the bar of service and accountability.

Those who serve in the highest council in the land should come to the House for interrogation. Previously, imperious Cabinet Secretaries held Parliament in contempt. They ignored committee invitations. When they turned up, they came to lecture the overawed MPs. Mercifully, some are now eating humble pie, even as they steadily drift into oblivion.  

President Ruto promised to be intentional in respecting the latitude that independent institutions should enjoy. With regard to Parliament, he will hopefully refrain from whipping MPs from State House, unlike his predecessor. But he will also want to allow other entities their space and live to his word, not to weaponise them for political ends. 

Now that those who weaponised the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and other anti-corruption bodies are out of power, they probably begin to understand just how intimidating their antics were. And those coming in will remember how it feels to be victimised by those in power. It should never happen again. 

The arrival of this new regime is an astute occasion to break with bad old habits. National rehabilitation and renewal is possible, if leaders will avoid axe-grinding, the sour grapes syndrome and abuse of office and power. Power should be exercised responsibly. 

Dr Muluka is a strategic communications advisor