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MPs deny Cabinet Secretaries privilege to fly National flag

COUNTIES
By Wilfred Ayaga | March 27th 2014

By WILFRED AYAGA

NAIROBI, KENYA: A miniature national flag fluttering in the wind from a pendant on the bonnet of a posh vehicle announced to the world that inside the dazzling machine was a member of the Cabinet. And when communities lobbied past Presidents to give them a flag, they simply meant that he rewards their political support by appointing their son or daughter to the Cabinet — the country’s highest decision-making body and most revered exclusive power club.

Every time the flag-bearers drove through a village or street, voters stopped to wave and the police stood at attention and saluted in honour of the flagbearer who — as it was widely believed — dined and wined with the President and had his good ear. In short, the flag symbolised access to State House and to the President’s worktable, meaning it could make or break careers.

When it was announced through the One O’clock news bulletin on national radio you had been fired from Cabinet, the first thing to be removed from your official car — to symbolically undress you of all trappings of power — was the flag. The next thing you lost were the retinue of police officers and drivers assigned to you.

When a President was campaigning, he would promise a flag here and there, and the promise of bendera brought in votes. When he wanted to admonish you, he would just warn at a rally that he was about to take away someone’s flag.

The clever ones would later seek to see the President, plead their case and probably succeeded in holding on to it.

The bendera, small as it was, would determine where you parked your car and where you sat at the presidential pavilion. In short, it enabled one to sit close enough to marvel at the grey hairs of the President and smell his cologne.

A story is told of a minister who one day, out of fury over what he felt was being fought by the President and his inner circle, drove into a police station and asked to leave his official car and flag.

The police officer in charge refused to take custody of the two because he told him; “We are not the ones who gave you the flag and so take it where you got it. We don’t want to be asked on what capacity we accepted.” The minister left and the next thing he heard was that he had been fired!

Now, the piece of cloth many yearned for and the arrogant dared the powers to take away may soon belong to history, and the inimitable siren that announces the arrival of a Cabinet member at a venue may also follow.

YANKED AWAY

In their resolve to cut governors to size, MPs have found themselves at the lawns of State House, where they have yanked away the flag from the Cabinet.

Now, only the President’s signature remains to end the days of  glory, after the National Assembly yesterday passed the National Flags, Emblems and Names (Amendment) Bill 2013 that strips Cabinet of the privilege to fly the flag.

And that should not be the only worry for the Cabinet Secretaries. Another Bill in the pipeline, Order of Precedence Bill 2014, seeks to relegate them further down the State pecking order — to the 15th slot.

Tuesday, pleas by Jubilee leaders in the House to let Cabinet Secretaries fly the miniature flag fell on deaf ears. 

MPs defeated an amendment to the National Flags, Emblems and Names (Amendment) Bill 2013 that had sought to include Cabinet Secretaries in the list of State officers who should enjoy the privilege.

The Bill that was initially introduced into the House by Eldas MP Adan Keynan had listed the President, the Deputy President, the Chief Justice and Speakers of the two Houses as the only State officers that should have national flags on their vehicles.

Majority Leader Adan Duale however sought to introduce the amendment to include Cabinet secretaries during the Committee Stage, in a bid to preserve the historical privilege that senior government officials have enjoyed.

The amendment was defeated even as the House granted a similar privilege to the country’s diplomats.

The diplomats, who are below the Cabinet secretaries in the government pecking order, will however be allowed the flags ‘while in foreign missions’ only.

The amendment to include them among the privileged officers was introduced by Asman Kamama (Tiaty).

Keynan’s Bill went through the Third Reading and will be referred to the President to sign it into law or send it back to the House should he disagree with any of its provisions.

When the amendment by Duale was put to the vote by Committee Chairperson Rachel Shebesh (Nairobi), members opposed to the amendment garnered 74 votes against 51 ayes.

There was heated debate during the Committee stage, with members arguing over the merits of various amendments that had been introduced into the Bill.

Efforts by Naomi Shaaban (Deputy Majority Leader) to convince the members to vote for the inclusion of Cabinet secretaries in the list failed. In her contribution, Shaaban argued it would be illogical to have diplomats fly the National flag while denying Cabinet secretaries the same privilege.

“If diplomats can fly the national flag, why not Cabinet secretaries?” Shaaban asked.

 Katoo ole Metito (Majority Whip) also failed to convince members to vote for the amendment.

“Cabinet secretaries the world over fly flags on their vehicles. They are representatives of the Head of State. My colleagues should look at posterity. You can imagine Cabinet secretaries in neighbouring countries flying flags, while our own do not. It would be akin to demeaning them,” he said.

STATE OFFICERS

Should the Bill become law, Cabinet secretaries will join governors among the list of State officers who have been denied the privilege.

Millie Odhiambo (Mbita) told the House that if Cabinet secretaries are granted the privilege, MPs should also enjoy the same.

“We are not second-class citizens. We are representatives of the people,” she said.

The Bill imposes a tough penalty on any Kenyan, apart from the specified State officers who is found flying a flag on their vehicle.

“Any person who violates this provision commits an offence and shall  be liable for a fine not exceeding one million shillings or a jail  term not exceeding five years, or both,” the Bill states.

REJECTED AMENDMENT

The House rejected another amendment by Ronald Tonui (Bomet Central) that had sought to create a window for ordinary Kenyans to fly flags on their vehicles and display them in their premises on grounds of ‘patriotism’.

 The member was forced to withdraw the amendment after MPs said that it would negate the objective of the Bill.

And the new Bill scheduled to be introduced to the House stipulates President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto, the speakers of the two Houses and Chief Justice Willy Mutunga are the only people who will be allowed to fly miniature versions of the national flag on their vehicles.

They will also solely have vehicles with sirens on their respective motorcades, if the Bill by Eldas MP becomes law. Parliament has barred Cabinet secretaries from flying the national flag on their vehicles, taking away a privilege that has set the senior officials apart from the citizenry since Independence. 

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