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Why parliament must redeem itself, fast

By Hezron Mogambi | September 28th 2018
Members of Parliament having a chat in parliament buildings. [Photo: Courtesy]

At a time when legislative leadership is desperately needed to put us back on the path to prosperity and achieve the Big Four agenda, Parliament in its wisdom has chosen to bury its head in the sand.

First, belying the bravado, the singing and pretence that characterised the special session of Parliament called to discuss tax issues last week was the underlying reality that the stature of the House has fallen greatly in the public eye.

Second, an admission from parliamentarians that they shared money in a toilet to defeat the controversial report on contaminated sugar is a clear testimony that all is not well in the august House.

One would be excused for thinking that this exceedingly shameless conduct would inspire deep soul-searching among the MPs.

Sorry Kenyans, you have no such luck! The reality today is that Parliament faces and operates in a climate of public indignation, distrust and resentment.

That’s why, if you read or discuss anything concerning Parliament that is in a positive light, you could easily be excused for espousing parasitic habits that feed on the body of the Kenyan society.

For, unfortunately, that’s what our Parliament has become.

To all intents and purposes, it appears, now than ever before, that Kenyan parliamentarians are not about to start caring for the interests, or meeting the ever-growing expectations, of their voters.

Many times

Not once, not twice, but many times, and to the dismay of many voters, they have lived up to their billing - serving selfish interests at the expense of national interests. Parliament’s law-making and oversight abilities have clearly become daunting, and they are unable to hide this fact any longer.

Parliament has various functions according to the Constitution. It “represents the will of the people, and exercises their sovereignty”, for example.

The National Assembly also “deliberates on and resolves issues of concern to the people.” It enacts laws (sometimes that responsibility is shared with the Senate).

It decides how national revenue is divided between the different levels of government; it allocates money to be spent by the national government and other national State organs, through the budget; it exercises oversight over how national revenue is spent, and over State organs.

It is against this background that Parliament is said to be sovereign; that its members derive the power they wield directly from the people. That assumption is facing its severest test ever in the current Parliament.

The actions and utterances of those elected to Parliament evoke a sense of foreboding that something has gone utterly wrong with our democracy, where everything seems to have been thrown to the dogs. Not even childish pretence is helping the situation.

Parliamentarians are crucial in the creation of an enabling environment for economic growth. If, instead of passing laws that engender economic growth they have always passed self-serving ones, then they have effectively left ordinary citizens to take care of themselves.

Oversight role

Fourth, in the present context where the war on corruption is taking shape, Parliament should read the mood of the country and pass laws and reports that show an earnest and dogged fight against corruption.

In any case, Parliament has an oversight role over the Executive and should be in the forefront of ensuring that the fight is taken to a new level; that of backing anti-corruption institutions to foster the rule of law.

In all these efforts, Parliament should not be soft but make sure that it takes no prisoners and allows no room for sacred cows.

Parliamentarians must also avoid being seen as voting machines. Parliament is a deliberative assembly of our country with one interest - Kenya - guided by the general good resulting from general reason, not local purposes or prejudices.

In this respect, Parliament and parliamentarians should identify heads that must roll in the Executive for failing to protect their departments against graft.

Parliament has a paramount responsibility to combat corruption in all its forms, especially in public life, but increasingly in the economy at large.

Ultimately, if parliamentarians continue with their current trend and use their energies to continue blackmailing Kenyans, the current crop will not be able to salvage their reputations, and more rightly, will not deserve the 'honourable' title that is appended to their names.

Prof Mogambi, a development communication and social change expert, teaches at the University of Nairobi; [email protected]

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