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Competence not key for selection to committees

By | June 28th 2009

By Lillian Aluanga

Parliament has voted in members to the crucial House committees and while the battle was who gets what competence may have been overlooked.

And as the committees get down to work, questions have been raised on the criteria for selection of members, competency and even integrity of some of the members sitting on these committees.

This, however, is a view former Deputy Speaker David Musila does not share.

"It would be unfair to condemn the performance of House Committees without specific examples of their alleged inefficiency," he says.

Musila says while the selection criteria of members to the committees is clearly stipulated in the Standing Orders, the task is largely left to party Chief Whips to come up with the names.

Professional background

"Selection of members to sit on the committees is not just about qualifications because all MPs are deemed fit to hold the positions. But party whips reserve the right to consider an individual’s professional background and see which committee they would be most useful in," he says.

Under the new Standing Orders, committees will be allowed to engage experts on issues under scrutiny with approval from the Speaker.

But former Rongo MP Ochillo Ayacko, agrees with the view that competency could be compromised in the selection of members to the committees.

"Party whips are usually close associates of party leaders. In most cases the membership slots are used to reward perceived loyalists despite the fact loyalty should never be a substitute for competence," says Ayacko, who served as chair to the Parliamentary Investment Committee.

The new Standing Orders appear to have read concerns from the public and now stipulate that the chair or vice- chair of a committee be an individual of "high integrity with no adverse report made against them by a parliamentary committee".

High Turnover

Besides the politics of selection, Ayacko attributes the reason some members sit on several committees while others have never had a chance to do so, to "Parliament’s high turnover".

"Parliament is unique because in almost every General Election you have about 70 per cent of parliamentarians as greenhorns who may take time to understand parliamentary procedures," he says.

"The watchdog function of parliamentary committees requires experience and knowledge of Standing Orders. A lack of this may see first timers bypassed in the selection," he adds.

The former Rongo MP contrasts Kenya’s Parliament to stable democracies like the UK and US, which have a large pool to choose from thus not being limited to inexperienced members.

"In a situation where majority of MPs are in government, there may be a limited pool thus having the same faces sitting on several committees," he says. Currently, Government has about 90 ministers and assistant ministers, limiting the selection pool.

One way of countering this, Ayacko says, is to adopt a hybrid system of governance where Cabinet ministers do not necessarily have to be from Parliament.

While it has been argued women are under represented on the committees, nominated MP Amina Abdalla, says it is difficult to attain the 30 per cent threshold given the number of women MPs.

"It may be difficult because we do not have the numbers. But we could at least try to have one woman in each of the committees," says the chair of the Delegated Legislation Committee.

Abdalla says House Committees, particularly since the Eighth Parliament, have proved their worth. She cites the Parliamentary Committee on Administration of Justice and Legal Affairs role in proposing a minimum reforms package prior to the 2007 election and says contrary to public perception a lot of the action in Parliament takes place in the committees.

Influence to legislate

"This is where influence to legislation takes place," says Abdalla.

The nominated MP says committees do a good job but their efforts are sometimes frustrated on the floor of the House owing to partisan tribal and ethnic interests, which water down recommendations made.

What of the perception that some committees are more important than others?

"There is really no committee which is greater than the other but the chair often determines the profile of a committee in the House," says Musila.

Ayacko says committees dealing with the traditional functions of the House such as the House Business Committee, the Committee on Justice and Administration, may appear to enjoy a higher profile, as do others like the Finance and Agriculture committees, which handle issues closely linked to the economy.

PIC and PAC also fall in this category for their role in scrutinising use of public funds.

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