Why MPs don't speak for 30 minutes, sit on weekends

National Assembly building during the opening of the 13th Parliament on September 29, 2022. [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

How is a Member of Parliament elected to articulate burning issues affecting his constituency supposed to represent the views of more than 50,000 voters? If every voter’s view was to be represented in Parliament would there be sufficient time?

These questions were raised by Kitale West MP Wafula Wabuge 53 years ago when he expressed concerns that allocating an MP only 10 minutes to contribute to a debate was inadequate.

Wabuge caused an uproar then when he suggested that an MP needed at least 30 minutes to articulate his views on behalf of his people on matters of national importance.

He said since he represented more than 50,000 voters at the time, it was only fair that he and each of his 171 colleagues be allocated a minimum of 30 minutes to render their views.

He also suggested that parliamentary sitting be extended up to Saturday so that MPs could have ample time to express themselves, to the horror of his colleagues who thought he was on a political suicide mission.

An assistant minister for Agriculture, Joseph Wafula Khaoya, fired back. "We have been told that if necessary, we should debate from Tuesday to Saturday. I wish to remind my colleague here that we have been to a General Election and the reason we lost more than 100 MPs were claimed that they spent a lot of time here in Nairobi."

"They were not going to the constituencies. We should not make the same mistake of sitting here from Monday to Saturday," Khaoya warned.

By applying what he called simple logic, Salim Mwavuno Khalif, also an assistant minister, argued that it would not be practical to have each of the 171 members be allowed to speak for 30 minutes.

Another firebrand politician, Jean Marie Seroney, said since not all MPs were to speak on every issue, it was imprudent to limit the time given to contribute to the presidential debate to only 10 minutes.

It was during the same debate on February 10, 1970, that the newly elected Speaker, Fred Mati, directed all first-time MPs to introduce themselves and advised them not to be too touchy.

The fear of being defeated by their opponents in subsequent elections made the MPs reject the proposal to be sitting on Saturday. More than half a century later, Parliament does not sit on Saturday unless there are exceptional circumstances.

This was a golden age when icons such as Waruru Kanja, Martin Shikuku, Eliud Mwamunga, GG Kariuki, Mwai Kibaki, Samuel Kivuitu and Fred Kubai set Parliament ablaze with their captivating contributions to the debate.