Just a fortnight before MPs take their final break to join the election campaigns, there’s a bitter fallout in Kenya’s bicameral Parliament between the leadership of the Senate and that of the National Assembly.
On the face, it looks like a resurgence of the supremacy wars that have dogged the 11th Parliament, but the undercurrents point to Machiavellian moves to neuter the Senate and its Clerk, and shore up the powers of the National Assembly.
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi and Majority Leader Aden Duale (Garissa Township) have written two hard-hitting letters to Senate Speaker Ekwee Ethuro, telling him to stop whining about the contents of the Parliamentary Service Commission Bill, 2017. The message to Ethuro, his Clerk Jeremiah Nyegenye and the Senate lawyers is simple: This Bill does not concern counties; therefore it is none of your business.
The political wars being fought on a legislative platform have sucked in parliamentary staff, who are now fighting in the corners of their respective bosses.
Sunday Standard has interviewed some of the players in the vicious political and bureaucratic battles in a bid to understand the reasons behind the fallout that threatens to stain whatever is left of the 11th Parliament.
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What is emerging is that it is a fight to control billions and a kind of revenge among the players involved. Some say the current system is full of unnecessary human bottlenecks that hamper service delivery, while others insist it is the typical jostling for space at the feeding trough.
All this is happening at a time when the commission has advertised 200 vacancies – a move that attracted thousands of job seekers, who for the past week, have been camping outside Parliament in their bid to join one of the most stable and lucrative employers within the public service.
Ethuro wrote to Muturi, and told him that the National Assembly on its own cannot approve a law that deals with the commission. Reason? It is a bicameral Parliament, and therefore the Senate had a role to play. According to Ethuro, if the Senate is ignored because, as Duale says, the Bill does not concern counties, then it will be weakened.
“An administratively weak and dysfunctional Senate leaves counties and their governments without the robust constitutional custodian at the national level ordained under the Constitution and undermines their negotiating power,” Ethuro said.
The Senate brigade has read the fine-print and realised that if the Bill is approved the way it is, the Senate will have no significant say within the PSC. The commission has the final say on the administration of Parliament. The Senate Clerk, who as the chief executive, secretary and the accounting officer, manages the billions allocated to Parliament every year, will lose that clout. He will only remain with one-quarter of his current control.
It is that scenario which made Ethuro angry. He slammed the National Assembly’s lawyers as holding “misguided beliefs” that they can simply make a law giving the Senate’s Clerk duties, yet the Constitution makes him the accounting officer by designating him as the Secretary of the Commission.
By neutering the Senate Clerk, Ethuro added, the Senate will not receive “favourable funding consideration at the commission level”.
But Duale dismissed this. “...there is no provision in the Constitution designating the Clerk of the Senate, or any other officer for that matter, as an accounting officer. Article 127(3) of the Constitution only designates the Clerk of the Senate as the Secretary to the Commission and curiously stops at that designation. Matters of who is to hold accounting powers are left to the wisdom of the legislature,” said Duale.
In his Bill, Duale has recommended that the Director General of Joint Services and the Director of the Centre for Parliamentary Studies get accounting powers. The Senate opposed this. Now he says, the Senate Speaker has no basis. Ethuro also argued that because the National Assembly Speaker is the chairman of the commission, and the Senate Clerk is the secretary, there was a balance of power.
In his rebuttal, Duale said the Secretary of the Commission is a non-member, and therefore cannot claim to be representing the Senate in the commission.
“The Secretary to the Commission...is not a member of the commission but an officer of the commission required ... to provide secretariat services to the commission. He has no vote or decision making powers...,” Duale’s letter that Sunday Standard has seen, reads.
Duale said there are already four MPs of the National Assembly and three senators in the commission. The National Assembly has more members, more staff and therefore deserved a higher quota in the commission, he says.
In summary Muturi and Duale told Ethuro: You and the Senate have no role. Muturi appears upset that the Senate tried to come up with a Money Bill (to set up a commission) yet that is the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Assembly. In short, he says, the Bill sponsored by seasoned lawmaker and lawyer Kiraitu Murungi was a waste of time, and the National Assembly won’t touch it. Instead, he has asked Ethuro to make sure that the 14 Bills that the National Assembly forwarded to the Senate are worked on quickly.
He added: “One Clerk can clearly therefore not purport to administer the staff of the other in the spirit of safeguarding the independence of the Houses.”
Duale also rubbished Ethuro’s claim that the Senate will be starved of cash if its Clerk, Nyegenye, is neutered. In his view, because the National Assembly already has exclusive say on budget-making, and has not starved the Senate of cash, it was superfluous to claim that the PSC Bill, 2017 could cause such harm.
“The funding of the commission and the two Houses is thus a matter that the Constitution has left to the absolute mandate of the National Assembly and there is nothing the Bill can do or undo in respect of these constitutional provisions,” Duale said.
The staff and the politicians in Parliament are waiting to see which House will win this battle, and how it will all end. Ethuro has already said that should the Senate be ignored, then the Act is null and void.
Will we see another situation where the Senate will go to court to sue the National Assembly over laws? There’s really no time left.