Parliament is an independent and co-equal branch of government vis-à-vis the Executive branch and Judiciary. This constitutional maxim should obtain regardless of which party controls Parliament. To that end, it is not the exclusive responsibility of the party allied to the losing presidential candidate(s) to check presidential power.
On Thursday, Speaker Moses Wetangula ruled that the Kenya Kwanza coalition (allied to President William Ruto) is the majority unit in the National Assembly. The confirmation of a unified government was greeted with the usual exhortations of the “opposition” to provide oversight on the “government” – with the latter being construed to mean the Executive branch and its majority coalition in the legislature.
This conception of how the system of inter-branch checks and balances is supposed to work could not be further from the truth. We are not a parliamentary system. We are a presidential system in which the entire legislature stands on its own feet, free from executive control. It controls its budget, calendar, and agenda. Its membership should therefore act like a corporate entity, regardless of its internal divisions.
The responsibility of protecting parliamentary independence lies squarely with Speaker Wetangula. Humphrey Slade, Jean-Marie Seroney, Francis Kaparo (in the 1990s), and Kenneth Marende all jealously protected the constitutional independence of Bunge under difficult circumstances. They did this by leaning heavily on the Constitution and the Standing Orders. Speaker Wetangula should embrace the same protections.
Regardless of their party affiliation, our legislators are, for the most part, thinking adults who would respond favourably to a Speaker whose overriding priority is the protection of legislative independence.
Reasonable observers would agree that the leadership of the 11th and 12th parliaments failed to protect the principle of parliamentary independence. Now that the organisation of the National Assembly is clear, one hopes that Speaker Wetangula will set about unlocking the promise of the 2010 Constitution. For starters, he should instil in his members that oversight is a collective parliamentary function and not just the preserve of the minority party or coalition.
The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University