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MPs give new meaning to Censure Motions

By | March 29th 2009
By | March 29th 2009

By Alex Ndegwa

Censure is a procedure by which Parliament can rebuke the actions or conduct of an individual. A censure Motion, as the phrase implies, expresses disapproval or reprimand at particular actions or policies of the Government and even an individual minister.

The power to censure and its consequence is not directly stated in the Constitution. Therefore, even if a minister is censured the President is under no obligation to fire him/her. Normally, censure is exclusively an on-the-record rebuke — it is not equivalent to a Motion of no confidence, and a minister can continue in office even if censured.

But this is not to downplay the potency of a censure. It is seen as contributing to the parliamentary and other pressures leading to a minister’s resignation or dismissal.

The rare power, the most potent Parliamentary tool the opposition can use against an individual minister, will at the least force an emergency debate over the matter in question allowing for public exposure.

This is so in instances where the solidarity of the Government ensures a minister under attack survives a censure Motion in the House.

Nine censure Motions — two of them against presidents — have been moved in the National Assembly but only two have resulted in resignations in the country’s 46 years of independence.

In 1965, Co-operatives and Marketing Minister Paul Ngei was censured for mismanagement of cereals (what is known today as the National Strategic Grain Reserves).

Ngei, who was detained with Kenyatta in Kapenguria in the struggle for independence, resigned and stayed out of the Cabinet until 1966 when he was reinstated in the Cabinet on presidential veto.

Kimunya Censure

Most recently, Finance (now Trade) Minister Amos Kimunya was censured by Parliament last year over questionable sale of the Grand Regency (now Laico) Hotel to Libyan investors.

Kimunya, who was accused by MPs of misleading the House on the controversial transaction, initially resisted attempts to force him out of office, but eventually buckled to pressure when members resorted to sabotaging Treasury business.

That the same MPs later ganged up, evidently motivated by sectarian political alliances of the scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours, and threw out a parliamentary report on the censure was an indication the tool had been turned into one to sort out political battles.

The motive of the unholy alliance unravelled later when the public was treated to a farce that was the supposed censure Motion against Agriculture Minister William Ruto over his handling of the national grain stores.

The debate veered off the merits and demerits of the motion, whose importance could not be gainsaid at a time 10 million Kenyans are staring starvation, to ridiculous narrow ethnic and party politics posturing.

The upshot is that the Tenth Parliament runs the risk of making this powerful tool meaningless if it is deployed for political bidding.And the frequency with which censure motions are being dispensed like confetti with little to do with enforcing accountability and everything about settling political scores is worrying.

Now Igembe South MP Mithika Linturi has already given notice of a censure Motion against the Attorney General Amos Wako. And in quick succession, several MPs led by Joshua Kutuny (Cherangany), Ababu Namwamba (Budalang’i) and Simon Mbugua (Kamukunji) announced Justice Minister Martha Karua would be next on the frying pan.

The plot was hatched during a public rally hosted by Mbugua and the motive is not hard to figure out. While the new fad is for ministers to take ‘political responsibility’ for their respective dockets, it is no secret that certain MPs have an axe to grind with the combative Gichugu MP.

Karua, in her characteristic abrasive response, has dared her opponents dismissively telling them the job of a minister is not a matter of life and death. She had earlier taken on the AG and word is that Wako is likely to smile the storm away in Parliament helped by anti-Karua forces.

Given the circumstances, one cannot bank on the censure motions to generate any informed debate if they indeed materialise once the House reconvenes.

They will only provide high adrenaline and absurd political shouting matches of no help to Kenyans.

The Tenth Parliament has much more serious business to transact and it should spare us the shenanigans.

Could National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende, who decides the merit of the motions, please save us?

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