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Will past setbacks return to haunt Senate?

By - | January 6th 2013

By Stephen Makabila          

 Kenya is set to have a second Senate since independence, opening the way for a bi-cameral House, and with it operational twin chambers.

Already, the Speaker Kenneth Marende has sworn-in Jeremiah Makokha Nyegenye and Justin Nthiiri Bundi as clerks of the Senate and the National Assembly.

Analysts say the expected Senate, which could be made up of some of the most experienced politicians, would face transformational challenges of making counties fully operational and navigating around the sensitive issues of resource allocation. When Bundi and Nyegenye were appointed by the Parliamentary Service Commission last October among 16 key people to midwife the change-over to the new dispensation, PSC vice- chairman Adan Keynan said the two were to be sent to the UK to study the workings of the House of Commons.

Will the bicameral system to be ushered in survive the intrigues of the 1960s that saw the first Senate abolished even before those elected had completed their first term?

Put it another way, have reasons that compelled the Senate’s abolishment in 1966 been effectively dealt with?

At independent in 1963, the first Constitution borrowed heavily from former British colonialists and provided for a Senate, which was abolished in 1966 when its membership was combined with that of the House of Representatives to form a unicameral legislature, the National Assembly.

Political scientist Amukowa Anangwe says the Senate of 1963-66 was different from the expected one in terms of the prevailing political wisdom. “The old Senate existed when the post-colonial government was trying to centralize power and it is in that context that the Senate was abolished. However it’s a reverse gear now because the environment is conducive for devolution and there can be alternative centres of power,” said Anangwe, a former minister.

Head of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Nairobi Adams Oloo says roles of the two Houses are well defined, and that while Parliament will deal with national issues, senators will deal with county issues.

“The Senate will have to deal with teething problems of transformation to a devolved system which has to be completed within three years. For example what happens to those counties that will not have fully transformed? It also has to deal with disputes from revenue allocations to county governments,” added Oloo.

In 2011, a group of MPs led by Ndaragwa’s Jeremiah Kioni plotted to introduce a Bill in Parliament seeking to scrap the Senate, which is enshrined in Chapter 8 of the new Constitution.

Devolved structures

The Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC), however, opposed the plans. CIC Chairman Charles Nyachae urged Kenyans to reject the proposal, as it would hamper the gains envisaged by the Constitution by doing away with devolution structures.

“We haven’t even established the Senate and we already want to abolish it. When you talk about abolishing the Senate then that is the thin end of the wedge in as far as the structure of governance is concerned,” Nyachae argued. Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta also dismissed the move, maintaining that the focus should be on implementation on the Constitution.

The Senate is empowered to represent the interests of the counties and their governments and participate in law making by considering, debating and approving Bills concerning counties.

It also determines allocation of national revenue among counties, and has powers of impeachment over the President and VP.

Anangwe says those running for senate seats with the hope of exercising power over Parliament will be disappointed and that opportunities such as impeachment of a sitting president are not an every day affair and may never arise anyway. “I do not even know why some people are wasting funds to go for Senate seats. Practically, the Senate is a boring empty shell given that the centre of gravity of local politics will be Parliament,” added Anangwe. He went on: “In all bicameral parliaments around the world, the senate is usually not the centre-piece of legislation.”

The 1963 Senate consisted of 41 senators elected for six years, one-third retiring every two years. The speaker was Timothy Chokwe.  It had, however, limited powers and was overshadowed by the lower House. For instance it could neither veto Bills from the lower House nor originate those touching on taxation, the consolidated fund, or government debt.

Its members included Mbeo Onyango for South Nyanza, William Wamalwa for Trans-Nzoia, Tom Kariuki Gichohi for Laikipia, James arap Soi for Kericho and Julius Muthamia for Meru.

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