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Give MPs benefit of doubt over poor legislation

By CHRIS OBURE | July 5th 2012

We are at a critical junction in our efforts to modernise our democracy and governance. This calls for maturity, understanding and careful navigation to avoid costly mistakes.

As a politician of four decades standing, I was taken aback when Parliament made drastic changes to the Elections and Political Parties’ Act via the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2012, only for the Civil Society and several political leaders to erupt in anger and threaten street demos.

Their response is clearly provided for and protected in law as a right, but some caution is necessary for the common good. When we have options on the table, we should logically resort to the most beneficial. I wish to remind my fellow Kenyans that dialogue is our best option.

It is not in vain that the best of the World’s diplomats put emphasis on “CONSULTATION” between the President and the Prime Minister, in the National Peace and Reconciliation Accord that rescued us from the post election violence.

Theirs was actually an underlining of “DIALOGUE” as the pillar of peaceful co-existence. Agreed, the move by Parliament to approve party hopping and restrict candidacy for Parliament, Senate, Deputy Governorship and Governorship to university degree holders only was unpopular., emotive and potentially divisive.

However, in our reaction we need to acknowledge the fact that there is no angel in Parliament. The members, just like the general public, are prone to making mistakes, but that does not warrant us running berserk.

Our new Constitution gives Kenyans a wide variety of options when it comes to redressing mistakes real or perceived. Apart from going to court as pointed out by Attorney General Prof Githu Muigai, interested groups have a constitutional right to peacefully collect signatures to force a national referendum on such a stand off to reach a settlement.

The stand-off is a stark reminder to our civil society, pressure groups and political interest groups to remain alert and monitor ongoing legislation towards the implementation of our new Constitution, instead of sitting back only to hit the roof after the mistakes are committed.

Kenyans are free to  lobby their MPs or friends in Parliament to either make appropriate amendments before passing or completely discard the ones that contravene the constitution and the Bill of rights.

Concerned individuals and pressure groups need to up their game, and take up their role to safeguard the gains we have made in our collective quest to reform this country. As a people, we are united in our resolve and efforts to achieve universal standards of democracy and good governance.
MPs do not work in isolation. As representatives, it goes without saying that they take to Parliament the views of the people they represent.

In the face of unpopular motions and Bills in the house, deliberate well organised pressure by the people on their respective MPs will definitely help deliver appropriate decisions on the final edict.

In the absence of such engagement and active vigilance, then the masses will be guilty of abandoning the MPs to their own designs or to be influenced by a few agitators’ for vested interests in legislation.

We even have room to petition the Speaker of Parliament through our MPs, or directly through memos, over any bills and motions tabled in the House that are unconstitutional so they can be struck off on technicalities in time.

In short, as a people, we need to thoroughly acquaint ourselves with our rights, safeguards and civilised options in regard to our role in actualizing the new Constitution to guarantee us a functioning democracy, an enabling socio-political environment and a prosperous economy.

I salute the President and the Prime Minister for quickly noticing the misstep by Parliament and objecting to the proposed new laws. But in future, the public needs to take a pro-active role in ensuring our parliament doesn’t stray from the good path. Remember, dialogue is our surest remedy when we disagree.

The writer is Minister for Public Works and ODM Member of Parliament for Bobasi Constituency.

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