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ODM threatens to pull out of all House committees

By | May 7th 2011

By Alex Ndegwa

The power struggle in Parliament’s committee on Justice and Legal Affairs has snowballed into a coalition row between President Kibaki’s PNU and Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ODM on the influence of the Constitution.

ODM has warned the withdrawal of its members from the troubled committee is "a warning shot" to its rivals and it will extend the purge to other parliamentary committees where its representatives defy the party position. The party’s Secretary General Anyang’ Nyong’o said in a statement on Thursday ODM had decided to withdraw its members from the committee "to give the party and its coalition partner time to resolve the crisis facing the committee politically."

Deputy Secretary General Joseph Nkaissery alleged a ploy by PNU to control key committees involved in the implementation of the Constitution to influence the process and declared ODM would resist such schemes.

If ODM makes good its threat to paralyse other committees, this would not only derail the implementation of the Constitution but also trigger premature campaigns ahead of next year’s General Election at a time when the Government is running late on the implementation.

But former Speaker Francis ole Kaparo said it is against House rules for a party to write to the Speaker to withdraw members from a committee(s), adding such communication should be ignored.

"There is separation between Parliament and political parties. The House elects members to committees. Parties have no role in the internal management of committees and, by extension, Parliament," said Kaparo.

Formal notification

Nkaissery said the party was waiting for a response from Speaker Kenneth Marende so it can reconstitute its membership of the Justice and Legal Affairs committee. The Speaker has, however, said that he has not been formally notified about ODM’s withdrawal from the committee

The Kajiado Central MP added the party would extend similar action to other parliamentary committees "to make sure party discipline takes root."

"This is just a warning shot. If our members in other committees do not toe the line we will not hesitate to replace them. We want to uphold loyalty of political parties because it is critical in democracy," Nkaissery told The Standard on Saturday.

He claimed PNU had taken advantage of the rebellious ODM representatives to undermine the party in the committee, which has a central role in the scrutiny of Bills to implement the new charter.

ODM is seeing the PM’s former ally-turned arch-critic William Ruto as the hidden hand behind its woes in the committee. MPs allied to him have often voted with PNU in open defiance of their party leadership.

"PNU wants to have a majority to influence the vetting of judges and magistrates as well as of nominees to various constitutional commissions. It is unacceptable and we are going to pull out as a party so we can give the slots to our loyal members," Nkaissery said.

But Justice and Legal Affairs committee vice chairman Njoroge Baiya said ODM could not purport to pull out of the committee because it’s the House that appoints members, after sanctioning a list by the House Business Committee.

"But it is the party whips who propose the names to HBC before the House approves them," Nkaissery counters.

Baiya, who chaired the meeting that endorsed a resolution to remove Namwamba, said: "The decision made yesterday (on Thursday) is pursuant to a directive by the Speaker. The meeting was properly constituted."

Last week Speaker Kenneth Marende directed the 11-member committee to convene a meeting and resolve the matter once and for all.

The Githunguri MP dismissed views that the committee could not function without the presence of ODM members, as suggested by Nkaissery.

"But it functioned yesterday (on Thursday)," he said alluding to the impeachment proceedings, "and it is going to submit its report to the Liaison Committee."

Kaparo echoed the position, saying as long as the committee has quorum, it can continue with its sessions regardless of boycott by ODM members.

According to Kaparo, who served as House Speaker until 2007, a lawmaker can only cease being a member of a committee by death, resigning, upon appointment as minister or absenting from committee sittings without proper justification.

"A party secretary general cannot write to the Speaker to withdraw members from a committee. That letter to the Speaker should be ignored. After all the Speaker does not manage committees," Kaparo said.

The Liaison Committee, headed by Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim and comprising of chairmen of all committees, is expected to sanction the election of a new chairman.

Nkaissery claimed the "ODM rebels are working in cohorts with our rivals" to derail implementation of the Constitution.

ODM MP John Mbadi said the battle to control justice is centred around the control of important decisions like the vetting of members of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

National accord

He said some MPs are also uncomfortable with provisions in the land chapter under the new Constitution and that was why they are fighting to control the committee.

Kisumu Town West MP Olago Oluoch said in view of the national accord one party alone cannot conduct House business without the involvement of the coalition partner.

"The withdrawal of ODM offers the two principals an opportunity to resolve the problems facing that committee," said Oluoch.

This week six MPs passed the vote-of-no confidence in Namwamba.

Those who attended the meeting were Baiya (PNU), Gachoka MP Mutava Musyimi (PNU), Mandera Central MP Abdikadir Mohammed (Safina), Saboti MP Eugene Wamalwa (PNU), Nominated MP George Nyamweya (PNU), and Chepalungu MP Isaac Rutto (ODM).

Nominated MPs Amina Abdallah (Kanu) and Sophia Abdi (ODM) were not in attendance, but had signed up to the earlier notice for the removal of Namwamba.

Namwamba alongside ODM members Millie Odhiambo (nominated) and Olago Aluoch (Kisumu Town West MP) did not attend.

Standing Order No. 175 allows any committee, with a majority of its members, to pass a vote-of-no confidence in either the chairman or the vice chairman.

"By a resolution supported by a majority of its members, a committee may resolve that it has no confidence in the chairperson or vice chairperson and such resolution shall be reported to the Liaison Committee which shall, as soon as it is practicable, arrange for the election of a new chairperson or vice-chairperson as the case may be," reads the Standing Order.

The plot to oust Namwamba was set in motion in February, his departure apparently hastened by the falling out in the committee over the investigation into the disputed nominations to three Judiciary offices, which the President eventually withdrew.

While majority of members backed a report that was supportive of the President’s nominees, Namwamba, Millie and Olago authored a ‘minority’ report condemning the President’s move.

But members said they had lost confidence in Namwamba’s leadership because, as Ruto said, "he was running the committee like a one man show."

Ruto has vowed to stay put in the committee in defiance of the party position.

The chairman of the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution Charles Nyachae stressed the importance of the troubled committee in the scrutiny of Bills to implement the Constitution.

"It is clear if the wrangling persists at the committee it will affect the constitutional implementation process," said Nyachae.

"There may be political implications (of the standoff) but it is best if we could deal with the issue without disrupting the committee’s work," Baiya said.

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