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MPs’ plate full as House reopens next week

BETWEEN THE SHEETS
By | November 7th 2009

by Alex Ndegwa

Parliament reopens on Tuesday after a two-month break.Before the September 16 recess, lawmakers were in a fighting mood – first shooting down a Government Motion to send them home earlier and then rejecting President Kibaki’s controversial reappointment of Justice Aaron Ringera as the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission director.

Ringera eventually bowed to pressure on September 25 and resigned as the MPs, who had voted to adopt a House committee report annulling the appointment, threatened to cut off the commission’s funding.

On Tuesday, the House will be confronted by the spillover of that tussle, with a legislation proposing to disband the anti-graft body lined up for introduction.

The Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes (Repeal) Bill, 2009, which proposes to repeal the 2003 Act that establishes KACC, is slated for first reading. Its architect, Garsen MP Danson Mungatana, says KACC is a lame duck and argues the law is meant to place the commission’s activities under the Attorney General’s Chambers, but definitely some colleagues do not share in his thinking.

Individuals implicated in corruption are certainly waiting on the wings to make short work of KACC and the legislation could prove unpopular especially given MPs had the final laugh in the row with the Executive. Other business lined up in the order paper is debate on the Proceeds of Crime And Anti-Money Laundering Bill, the umpteenth attempt to enact a law to end glory days of those who profiteer from illicit trades.

No time for sideshows

But there is no time for sideshows with the urgency to enact crucial reforms since the "window of opportunity to deliver reforms is rapidly closing with onset of another election cycle," to quote chief mediator Kofi Annan. After the visit by the International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, it must have dawned on the political class the atrocities committed during the post-election violence cannot be swept under the carpet. Yet Ocampo, just like Annan, has indicated while the ICC would go for the big fish to resolutely deal with impunity, a local tribunal must be established to nail other culprits.

That means for Parliament to claim a share of the honours for routing impunity, it must consider Central Imenti MP Gitobu Imanyara’s privately sponsored Special Tribunal Bill.

Another issue that deserves urgent attention is constitution review, which is at a defining moment. The political class could decide whether it is the end of the 20-year hunt for the fabled document. Sources indicate a draft constitution could be published next week to allow 30 days of public debate before it moves to MPs.

As usual, differences over the system of government are playing out and reports the Committee of Experts has settled on a ceremonial president with a Parliament-appointed Prime Minister as head of government will stoke the fires.

Similarly, MPs will have an opportunity to address the thorny land issue that has haunted the nation if they endorse the country’s first-ever comprehensive land policy. Lands minister James Orengo has said a sessional paper on the new policy will be tabled before the House once it reopens. The policy proposes a new legal regime to facilitate recovery of illegally acquired public land and redistribution. If the policy is endorsed, the notorious 999-year leases instituted in the colonial era will be cut to 99 years. A national land commission will take over inventory, custody and management of public land from the commissioner of lands, an office that oversaw dishing out of the resource to reward political loyalty. These are radical proposals and no wonder the land barons are in a frenzy to derail the efforts. MPs must stand up for public interest on this too.

The upshot is that Parliament has its work cut out and MPs must demonstrate enthusiasm in dealing with issues of public interest similar to that evident in battles meant to settle political scores.

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