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No cocktail for MPs as Covid-19 spoils party in near-empty House

KENYA
By Wilfred Ayaga | June 11th 2020

In a break from tradition, there were no cocktails at the end of Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani’s Budget statement yesterday, an indication of the tough times brought about by the Cocid-19 pandemic.

In a light-hearted moment at the end of the speech, Speaker Justin Muturi informed MPs that the usual refreshments -- mandazi, juice and soda -- usually served at the Parliament parking area would not be available, and politely asked them to leave at their own pleasure. The session often provides an opportunity for light talk and a chance for journalists to interact with MPs and seek their reactions to the Budget speech.

“All guests are to leave the precincts of Parliament at their own pleasure. Today’s Budget speech will not be accompanied by the usual refreshments,” the speaker said, before the handful of MPs walked out of the Chamber.

The lack of refreshments was the highlight of a low-key Budget speech that was read in a near-empty Chamber as the safety guidelines on keeping Covid-19 at bay have restricted the House to a limited number of MPs.

Usual excitement

At the gate, the CS was welcomed with a hand sanitiser, the first indication that it was no longer business as usual.

Dressed in a light blue suit, white shirt and red tie, Yatani walked into Parliament at 3.40 pm accompanied by his wife and two sons and proceeded to the Chamber in the company of House leadership, including majority leader Aden Duale and John Mbadi, the minority leader. All wore what has now become an everyday attire -- masks. Wearing of masks is one of the measures rolled out by the State in the fight against spread of the coronavirus.

Unlike in the past Budget-reading days, the usual excitement was missing in the Chamber yesterday. Not even the smiles and pleasantries exchanged by parliamentary leadership could mask the fact that this was a different House, reeling under the weight of effects of the pandemic.

Even when the CS mentioned things that would usually attract foot-thumping by MPs, the excitement was mute.

At the end of the one-and-a-half-hour speech, the MPs followed the speaker’s instructions and trooped out to their vehicles, and quickly left the parking lot that would usually be filled with high fives and a scramble to catch the eyes of journalists.

Later, the CS addressed a press conference and expressed optimism that the measures taken by the Treasury in light of the pandemic would provide relief now and in post-Covid-19 period.

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