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MPs, private sector now seek to legalise lobbying for business-friendly laws

By Alphonce Shiundu | June 7th 2015
Speaker Justin Muturi (centre) with the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) vice-chair Laila Macharia (left) when MPs met KEPSA officials in Mombasa on Friday. [Photo: KEVIN KARANI/STANDARD

One cloudy morning last month, a businessman in a well-tailored suit, a sheaf of papers in a black leather bag on his right hand, and an IPad on his left hand, walked into the main Parliament Building in Nairobi.

He had been sent by actors in the multi-billion shilling tobacco industry to “talk” to MPs to drop tough rules introduced by the government for the safety of non-smoking public. The man, in his mid-fifties, asked where he could locate the House Committee on Delegated Legislation.

His goal, according to a confession made to The Standard on Sunday, was to “use all means necessary” to have MPs declare the regulations illegal or, at the bare minimum, water them down.

While the man walked the corridors of Parliament on his political seduction mission, consumer lobbyists through some MPs in the Departmental Committee on Health, began a smear campaign against the MPs. They knew, from experience, that the money and luxurious junkets were irresistible, and therefore, the idea was to expose the lobbyist and the grand bribery scheme.

The headlines about the planned inducement were splashed across newspapers.

If you ask National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi that incident about the tobacco rules, he will tell you what he told businessmen, investors and entrepreneurs at Mombasa’s luxurious Whitesands Hotel: That he heard the rumour about plans to fly MPs to Mombasa for a holiday treat complete with hefty entertainment allowances per MP in the coastal city reputed for its fun and adventure.

Though he couldn’t prove if his charges in the august House had been approached, the “rumour” was not improbable. It gnawed at his conscience because the image of Parliament was at stake, more so after the presidential dossier on corruption fingered three House committees, including the prime watchdog — the Public Accounts Committee.

“We had to find a way out of this so that nobody says they were taken to Mombasa and they were seen swimming,” said Muturi as he spoke at the business meeting on Friday.

The Speaker said he saw the urgency of having a structured way to deal with the business interests that want to influence laws to keep operating costs down and boost their profits. “All we are trying to do is to make the system of consultation a little more elaborate. It is up to us to innovate,” Muturi added.

When they hit a brick wall in the National Assembly, the lobbyists changed tack and went to the Judiciary to have the judges intervene.

“They found themselves between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand the Judiciary says no, the regulations are still in the House, so let us see what the National Assembly will do; but on the other hand the Cabinet Secretary says the regulations are in force. They couldn’t get the orders sought, and we also went on recess!” the Speaker said.

Perception crisis

The Standard on Sunday is privy to information that the MPs are also battling a perception crisis regarding the regulations. If they reject the regulations, the rumours about them having been bribed will explode.

If they approve the regulations, which were drafted and enacted without their involvement, they will be seen as rubber stamps. They have thus written a letter to the Cabinet Secretary in charge of Health, Mr James Macharia, summoning him to a meeting next week. They just want him to drop the regulations until they are involved, but they will make that decision within a fortnight.

These details about the desire by corporates to make laws, alter rules and bend policies to suit business interests by keeping costs down and boosting profits, were made public during the Speaker’s Roundtable meeting with Kenya Private Sector Alliance in Mombasa.

Kepsa’s vice chair Laila Macharia and a manager Victor Ogalo, plus billionaire businessman Vimal Shah pleaded with the MPs to make a law to allow for businessmen to pursue their interests within the Legislature without stirring perceptions that what they were doing was illegal.

Ms Laila said the idea behind lobbying for business-friendly laws was to make sure that the government backed laws and policies that spur exports, support small businesses, reduce trade barriers, and promote the participation of Kenyans living abroad.

“We need a law to structure the public-private dialogue so that it allows the private sector to be a true partner to advise and equip government in policy-making so as to bring dignity and prosperity to the Kenyan people,” the Kepsa vice chairperson said.

For Vimal, politicians and businessmen have to agree on the country’s vision for prosperity   and deal with corruption. He said that in East Africa, Kenya was possibly the only country where businessmen had the ear of the Executive and the Legislature in driving policy.

“In Tanzania the government does not listen to the private sector; in Uganda, it is limited, the attitude is more like, my way or the highway; in Rwanda, it is happening a lot more,” said Vimal.

The MPs took the cue. James Nyikal (Seme) reminded the meeting that the goal of government is to make life better for the people. He upbraided the businessmen for encouraging corruption and then sitting back while the government cracked down on the bad apples within the system. “There can be no corruption in the public sector if the private sector is not corrupt,” said Nyikal.

His view was that while businessmen pursued profits, they should also help improve livelihoods.

Job creation

However, the private sector noted that it was not their business to offer services for which they pay taxes. Their businesses generate profits from which they pay taxes; they create jobs; plus those who export, help keep the shilling stable, and therefore, the economy afloat. According to Kepsa’s Patrick Obath, they have come up with a proposal for a Bill to govern the Public-Private dialogue.

“We have had this perception that people will go and throw money to some committees,” said Obath as he laid the basis for open, over-the-counter “engagement” with the National Assembly.

“You have a chance as the private sector to have dialogue when there are issues that affect the private sector so that there is a full understanding of the issues. It is not about bashing the National Assembly, it is about engagement. It is necessary that this process is enshrined in some form of legislation, so that we know there will always be a mechanism for the private sector to engage with the entire government,” said Obath.

The Speaker, the Clerk Justin Bundi and the MPs agreed that a law was necessary and they set a two-week deadline to come up with a draft which will then be presented to the Kenya Law Reform Commission, the Attorney General Githu Muigai, and the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution for review.  “Public participation is mandatory, it is an obligation that we must implement. We are continuously developing mechanisms to make sure this process works, and that it is cost-effective and meaningful,” said Bundi.

Speaker Muturi agreed.  “The process of making laws is never over, until it is over. I invite you to engage all the necessary committees. You are the players out there, so that the law that is passed is one that reflects the best wishes of the country,” said Muturi.

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