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IEBC deal breaker demonstrated the value of statesmanship

By Billow Kerrow | August 21st 2016

NAIROBI: The IEBC deal struck by the Joint Parliamentary Select Committee headed by Senators Kiraitu Murungi and James Orengo is a landmark agreement that ought to be applauded. It is an icebreaker in the sour relations between the political class, their party leaders and the two Houses of Parliament.

All were at loggerheads a few months ago, and the altercations on the matter of IEBC between the political class spilled onto the streets, leading to fatal violence and near anarchy. I had penned an opinion piece at the time that the solution to the IEBC crises lay with MPs, and suggested that CORD should hold their demos at Parliament, not IEBC offices. My argument was simple: Parliament was the hindrance to reforms at IEBC.

And as usual, when the heat became too much on both sides of the political divide, they did the honourable thing and opted for dialogue. The outcome is a win-win for both; the opposition succeeded in ejecting the IEBC commissioners, and Jubilee won peace on the streets and in the Houses. The deal also gave CORD a chance to have the voter register audited by forensic auditors, one of their key demands.

Jubilee too had their way in giving the President the chance to select the final list of the new commissioners that will go to Parliament. Since the same political class nominated the current commissioners, they agreed to give them a hefty send-off package.

Their services were terminated before the end of their contract and the rules of natural justice demand that they be paid off for the unexpired term of their contract. This action does not in any way preclude the relevant authorities from pursuing them for any involvement in irregularities or criminality while discharging their office. Our Constitution holds that you are innocent unless you are convicted. Consequently, questions of integrity that abound cannot necessarily deny them their package.

Our system of governance is so politicised that the political parties call the shots even in such a critical matter. I understand that in France, the Interior ministry conducts the elections. In South Africa, the commissioners are only five, and are appointed directly by the president. In Kenya, neutrality of such public institutions is seen in political party lenses, in so far as they are involved in its nominations.

Partly I blame our independent commissions and offices for pandering to the whims of the Executive so openly that they are presumptively and readily discredited in the court of public opinion.

Perhaps another key takeaway from this deal is that the Parliamentarians can choke a bipartisan deal on any contentious national issue if they are pressed into a corner. All the political rhetoric can be put aside and everyone suddenly puts on a gentleman's demeanour, engaging in urgent, serious dialogue. How I wish we could do that on many issues that affect the ordinary folks and not just matters of election.

Equally significant outcome is the buy-in by the principals across the political divide. The decision to lock out party hopping was the icing on the cake for both leaders. They quickly endorsed the deal, and are ready to whip their troops to pass the resolutions and attendant legislative amendments.

Yet, only weeks ago, each argued that IEBC was parliamentary business that they had no role in. The parliamentarians should also take home a fact: they can bind their party bosses if they act in the best interests of the nation, and act in a bi-partisan manner.

Now that the ice is broken between the two main coalitions, perhaps it is time the Parliamentarians ventured into other unfinished business of the ordinary folks — the list is long! And of course, the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament too!

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