Parliament can't be a watchdog if clueless on policy

The Senate during a previous session. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Perhaps it is time President William Ruto organised regular policy seminars for his lieutenants in Kenya Kwanza.

Since publication of the Finance Bill and its raft of taxing proposals, the president's men and women have struggled to provide a coherent message on what the government intends to do with our taxes.

Many seem stuck in the past, whence government communication and persuasion of citizens on specific policy positions was considered a favour rather than a core part of governing.

Legislators, in particular, have demonstrated a singular failure to appreciate the importance of understanding the policy proposals on the table.

Most have made fools of themselves by displaying a gratuitously ignorant mpende msipende response to specific questions related to tax increases.

A quick survey of responses from Kenya Kwanza affiliated legislators suggests that many have not read the Finance Bill and are instead ready to vote as commanded by State House.


This is no way to run state institutions, especially those charged with keeping the executive in check. Furthermore, it is in the interest of the Kenya Kwanza coalition for us to have robust debate about every bit of policy.

Such debate promises two potential upsides. First, debate may reveal new information and ideas on how to improve on the proposals on the table.

Second, debate serves to increase public information on specific details in the proposals. The latter benefit of debate is particularly important as it would serve to align different parts of the national and county governments to what the president envisions in the Finance Bill.

It would also democratise and decentralise the issue of accountability. Every Kenyan would know exactly what the administration is trying to do and make sure that frontline bureaucrats stick to the plan.

Put differently, secrecy in policy partially enables bureaucrats to shirk their duties. There is no question that State House and Treasury failed in their communication strategy surrounding the Finance Bill.

Yet, Parliament need not have taken the same path.

As the people's representatives, legislators should have done more to educate Kenyans on the Bill, in addition to publicly defending their positions.

To that end, our legislators must step up and develop both an interest and expertise in specific policy domains. There is no room for marionettes in Parliament.

The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University