National Assembly’s opposition to Senate’s probe on KQ unreasonable

Those who read the weekend papers regularly will remember that on May 3 and 10 this year I wrote articles on this space calling the attention of Kenyans to what was going on in Kenya Airways. As a frequent user of our national flag career I was alarmed by the high number of flight cancellations travellers were experiencing in both local and international routes. And this was a very personal experience when my wife and I got delayed at Entebbe and had to spend an extra day there which we could ill afford. Other travellers told us tales of woe they had experienced in various global capitals to which our airline flies. I got deeply concerned.

More than that I found out that there were deep grievances among crew members and pilots against the airline management. These were not complaints that could encourage a healthy and productive working environment. Furthermore, during off-and-on conversations I had with some members of the management, an air of uncertainty was almost palpable: with terrorism looming in the horizon as a terrible threat to passenger growth, the future seemed uncertain. The little research I did in the internet revealed more horrendous stories which needed urgent attention. Obviously all was not well with the Pride of Africa.

I therefore decided to bring a motion of adjournment to the Senate to discuss the crisis at Kenya Airways as a matter of national importance. Such debates last only one hour, and are frequently used simply to draw the attention of members to matters needing urgent action. Senators felt that such action could only follow if a substantive motion was brought to the house setting up a Select Committee to look further into the crisis and provide remedies. The Speaker of the Senate Ekwe Ethuro was very encouraging. I therefore brought the motion to the floor of the Senate and it was debated and approved on June 18, setting up a Select Committee of 11 members with me as the chairperson.

We started our work immediately. It is now exactly two months since we began our work; and we have made tremendous progress. Our mandate was for three months renewable if need be depending on the work load and time needed to do a decent job. It is therefore very surprising that some members in the National Assembly have just woken up now to complain that the Senate is doing a job they should have been doing.

The Constitution of the Republic of Kenya is very clear. Article 125 gives both the Senate and the National Assembly powers to summon anybody to give evidence to either House, and to any of their committees, on any issue or problem either House or committees may be inquiring into. Under such circumstances the procedures and work in such committees or hearings are similar to those in a high court. I do not think that once a court is in session it can be stopped from doing its work by the whims of any individual or groups of individuals.

Article 153, in dealing with the appearance of Cabinet Secretaries before Parliament (meaning Senate and National Assembly) states as follows: “(3) A Cabinet Secretary shall attend before a committee of the National Assembly, or the Senate, when required by the committee, and answer any question concerning a matter for which the Cabinet Secretary is responsible.” I need not add more.

Purely in terms of decorum and parliamentary etiquette, it would have been better if the concern being expressed in the National Assembly was discussed between the two Speakers so that the Assembly is better informed about the genesis and evolution of the current discussions in our Select Committee. But to go ballistic and issue an ultimatum that we should not do what we are doing because they should be doing it risks being seen as immaturity bordering on juvenile jealousy.

Going further to suggest that our recommendations may not be implemented by government betrays ignorance of the Constitution as well as the goodwill that the Senate enjoys in the public domain. Indeed, it is in the quality of the work we do and the compelling reasons we give for the recommendations we make that will lead any patriotic Kenyan to embrace our final report. In that regard I hope I have now informed the misinformed and guided the misguided.

We do not pretend to hold the key to unlock the door that will lead Kenya Airways to successful recovery. But if members of the lower House are convinced that they can also inquire into this matter we will not, in any way, stand in their way. On the other hand, the house can wait for our report and make use of it. I have been in Parliament long enough to have initiated Bills which were finally taken up as government Bills to become law. I remember the Presidential Retirement Benefits Bill. That was my initiative; but in those days it was very difficult to get a private member’s Bill see the light of day. So my old school mate and former Attorney General Amos Wako, took it from me and made it law. President Moi was the immediate beneficiary. Who got the glory for the new law was not important; what is important to this very day is that this law now forms part of the sinew that holds our political body together.

I also remember the Privatisation Bill which took us a long time with colleagues like Sam Mwale to draft as we conducted research on privatisation in Kenya. When the Bill was ready it was once more appropriated by the government through Wako’s office and it is part and parcel of our laws today.

So it is the use value of what we do in Parliament as a whole which matters. Some of us will resist being drawn into petty wars of peer rivalry which, in the final analysis, may not achieve much for this nation. In honour of the sacrifices we have made in the past I once more, on behalf of our Select Committee looking into the affairs of Kenya Airways, commit ourselves to do our best to fulfil our constitutional responsibilities for God and our country.