The six-month suspension of Nominated Senator Gloria Orwoba for gross misconduct is not without precedent. Similar harsh punishments have been meted out to other lawmakers by previous Parliaments.
Seven years ago Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, the current Leader of Minority in the National Assembly, was suspended for 11 months by the then Speaker Justin Muturi.
His suspension was, however, lifted after four months by High Court judge George Odunga, who said the court had the power to intervene in such matters even if institutions involved have the mandate of to make their own decisions.
Wandayi was among CORD MPs who led a whistling protest immediately President Uhuru Kenyatta stood to address the nation in 2016 and then disobeyed the speaker’s order to vacate the House.
The MP was frog-marched by the orderlies, kicked out of the House and then blocked from accessing Parliament and the Constituency Development Fund office.
Wandayi’s office was then locked and his bodyguards withdrawn. Parliamentary staff attached to him were also sent home, with the MP getting denied all privileges apart from his monthly salary.
In Wandayi’s case, however, the speaker used Parliamentary Standing Order 111, which says a member who refuses to withdraw when required to do so should be kicked out.
It reads: “The speaker shall order such a member to be removed and such a member shall thereupon without question be suspended from the service of the House during the remainder of the session.”
In Orwoba’s case, a more detailed and elaborate approach was used after the matter was seized by the Powers and Privileges Committee that is chaired by the speaker.
The nominated MP was then asked to appear and substantiate her claims against the clerk but declined to do so when she attended with her lawyers. Instead she moved to court.
And so the committee proceeded with its deliberations on the matter as laid out in the Standing Orders before tabling its report in the plenary for debate by the whole House.
“The Standing Orders provide some flexibility to the speaker because he has the discretion of using Order 1 but it also depends on the gravity of the matter and the scale of the misconduct,” said Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi.
Osotsi is among the MPs who supported her suspension during debate in Parliament where he urged senators to conduct themselves with decorum and respect.
During the debate, he said Orwoba had also cast aspersions on her colleagues with claims that they were sabotaging her Bill, the Konza Technopolis Bill, after they requested her to align it with a similar one drafted by the ICT ministry.
Other cases that have been handled with severity include the suspension, in 1998, of MPs David Murathe (Gatanga), the current Jubilee Party vice chairman, and Stephen Ndichu, who served as the legislator for Juja Constituency.
The two MPs from neighbouring constituencies were suspended by Speaker Francis Ole Kaparo for violating Standing Order 111 after exchanging blows in Parliament.
Having been elected on Charity Ngilu’s Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1997, the MPs remained outside Parliament for three months without allowances and other privileges.
Speaker Kaparo told The Sunday Standard that during his time, the severest punishment was for the suspended MPs to cease being members until the exclusion period ended although they continued earning their salaries.
“I remember two MPs being removed for fighting but again I don’t want my former members to say I’m revisiting the matter now. But such punishment is normally reserved for grave offences,” says Kaparo.
He added: “I did suspend the two members for a balance of the term with a rider that they wouldn’t step into Parliament and also suspended their allowances.”
He also remembers that they challenged the suspension in court but his ruling was upheld, making them serve their term as they remained outside for those three months.
The former speaker says it was an unusual occurrence but he thinks unusual incidents demand unusual action, which if not taken will lead to recurrence of unbecoming conduct.
In some cases, like that of Embakasi East MP Babu Owino and former leader of Minority John Mbadi, they were suspended by Speaker Muturi for five days for misconduct.
Mbadi was ordered to stay out of the House for five days following the chaos that left the then-MP for Sigowet-Soin Kipsengeret Koros with a cut on his face.
In Orwoba’s case, efforts were made to save her by Kenya Kwanza through the Senate Leader of Majority Aaron Cheruiyot who pleaded that the matter be dropped because the House was washing its dirty linen in public.
Debate however continued leading to the approval of the report as recommended by the committee that she be stopped from accessing the precincts of Parliament for the six-month period.
In addition, she will not attend Senate plenary sessions, go for foreign travels and sit in committee meetings, meaning she will not enjoy the mouth-watering allowances MPs get for such activities.
At its meeting held on August 1, 2023, the Committee of Powers and Privileges while considering recent developments relating to its mandate, noted the allegations made by Orwoba on the Senate Business WhatsApp Group.
The allegations were allegedly made by the Senator on diverse dates and that she also raised other claims during a media briefing at the media centre on July 27, 2023.
Upon deliberation, the Committee, pursuant to section 15(5) of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act, 2017, resolved to undertake an inquiry, on its own motion, into the conduct of the Senator.
The committee decided to enquire if Orwoba’s conduct constituted a breach of privilege and if so, the appropriate recommendations to make in accordance with the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act, 2017, and the Senate Standing Orders.
The MP, appeared before the committee in person and with advocates representing her on August 7, 2023 where her lawyers requested for documentation relating to the allegations and additional time to enable them prepare adequately for the inquiry.
The inquiry reports tabled in Parliament said she again appeared before the committee in person together with her advocates on August 9, 2023 but declined to participate in the hearing stating that the matter was sub judice.
The lawyers also raised issues of jurisdiction, premeditation, among others. The committee then proceeded with its sittings after noting that it had granted her an opportunity to be heard.
“Taking into account her conduct and standing order 103 of the Senate Standing Orders on sub judice and previous Court decisions touching on sub judice, the committee resolved to proceed with the hearing in her absence,” the report said.
Counts raised against her included allegations she allegedly made by posting various messages on the Senate Business WhatsApp Group about the pursuit of sexual favours, which the report says she failed to substantiate.
When she returns, the MP will be required to apologise in the plenary on the floor of the House before she is allowed to resume her sittings.
She will also be asked to make another apology to the Clerk of the Senate and the secretariat.
Some leaders among them Narc Kenya’s Martha Karua have defended the MP, claiming she is being haunted by male chauvinists.
“The Senate, which is male-dominated, is telling women including women senators dare you complain of sexual harassment we shall exterminate you,” she said
The former minister said dismissal of the charges against Orwoba would have been enough if at all the evidence she adduced to defend herself was inadequate.
Karua also asked the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) and Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) to look into the case.
But speaking in Parliament, outspoken Busia Senator Okiya Omutatah blamed Orwoba for not taking the opportunity of defending herself before the committee. Okiya dismissed those raising the gender card while defending the nominated MP.