|National Assembly PHOTO:COURTESY|
By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU
The National Assembly handed President Uhuru Kenyatta near-absolute control over journalists and media enterprises in the country when it approved his despotic memorandum without any amendments.
The MPs failed to raise the two-thirds majority required to amend or reject the offensive clauses in the presidential memorandum on the Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Bill, 2013, even after a whole night of lobbying.
The memo effects the Sh20 million maximum fine for media houses that disobey the law, and a Sh500,000 for journalists who disobey the law.
It also grants the President and the Cabinet Secretary for Information and Communication the final say on the people to sit in the Communications Authority of Kenya, and those to sit in the Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal—the two major bodies that will manage the communications sector, regulate content, and punish journalists and media enterprises.
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Though President Kenyatta’s Jubilee coalition has 216 MPs in the House, there were just 140 MPs in present in the 349-member Houser, a majority of them from the opposition’s Coalition for Reform and Democracy. The two-thirds majority is 233 MPs.
The whole adoption of the controversial memo was done under ten minutes, just moments after opposition MPs walked out, to register their dissent at what they viewed as a betrayal of the media industry by the numerically superior Jubilee coalition.
The CORD MPs put pressure on the Jubilee side, plus Speaker Justin Muturi to at least rally their members to show up in the House, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
The Majority Leader Adan Duale, Speaker Muturi and the chairman of the House Committee on Communication, Information and Energy Jamleck Kamau insisted that it was difficult to get the two-thirds majority even if the approval of the President’s memorandum was delayed.
But CORD MPs were not convinced. In their view, Jubilee coalition had the numbers and ought to have brought their numbers to the House to vet the presidential memorandum.
“What I know is that when particularly our colleagues in the Jubilee side want to pass anything that requires numbers, they whip to the last man. Did Jubilee whip their members to come to this floor today?” posed Gladys Wanga (Homabay).
Deputy Minority Leader Jakoyo Midiwo (Gem), Millie Mabona (Mbita), Agostinho Neto (Ndhiwa), Ababu Namwamba (Budalang’i), Abdulswamad Nassir (Mvita) all allied to CORD said the rules the Speaker had issued restricting the debate to only those clauses that President Kenyatta had included in his memo had rendered the debate “unconstitutional”.
The presiding lawmaker Rachel Shebesh (Nairobi) also got barbs for stifling debate on the memo.
“You did not give us a chance to contribute at all. I want to know whether we have changed the rules of this House so that members are gagged, so that we are not going to debate, the way you are gagging the media. We want to know whether this is a scheme to gag us, the way we’re gagging the media” said Mabona.
Midiwo told the House that article 115 says the President should “express reservations” and not make proposals for amendments.
“Reservations cannot be suggestions! His Excellency the President is doing legislation. All this memorandum should have said is that I have reservations on a,b,c,d, and you as Parliament deal with it. That’s what he should have done. We’ll be setting the most dangerous precedent” said Midiwo.
The Deputy Minority Leader noted: “Today, if we go through with what we are about to go through – and I know my colleagues on the other side are thrilled they want to go through because it is coming from the President on their side of the House. That is fine. But he is our president—we will be opening a door for a rogue President!”
“If in future, if after President Kenyatta we get a rogue President, he will bring a simple legislation here, just one line. He will then go and reject the Bill that we pass here, and will bring it back here with bad intentions and bad amendments, knowing that Parliament cannot raise the two-thirds majority,” said Midiwo.
But his pleas fell on deaf ears.
Speaker Muturi told Midiwo that the Constitution was very clear on the procedure to be followed. According to the Speaker, without 233 MPs in the House, there was no point trying to amend the memo.
“Where you negative without the two-thirds majority, you will have acted in futility, the consequence is that then the memorandum stands passed. I don’t know if we are clear on this, “ said Muturi.
Seeing that MPs still had their eyes on him, and some even asked him to change the rules of the House to cure the perceived unconstitutionality, Muturi repeated.
“Even if the majority were to say ‘no’, without the two-thirds majority, the net effect is, because you didn’t have the requisite majority, the memorandum will be deemed to have been passed. That is the consequence,” the Speaker repeated.
The fate was sealed. Some MPs questioned what would become of the man-hours spent in the dialogue between industry players and the House Committee, and the money MPs had been paid in the committee sittings.
But Muturi said, he was not aware of any promises made to any person.
“Yes please carry along those whom you have engaged with, and explain to them clearly the provisions of article 115 of the Constitution, that this is what we are capable doing…” said Muturi.
“Where we think that we have bitten more than we are able to chew, we should also be clear and tell those who we were eating with, that now we may have to vomit. What we bit is more than we are able to chew” ruled Muturi.
He told MPs of the opposition, CORD, that, the memorandum will be deemed to have been approved even if they voted to reject it.
Though MPs questioned if the House should act in vain, Shebesh stepped on the legislative pedal, her Jubilee colleagues kept shouting ‘aye’ at each of the amendments, and in the end, the whole memo was approved.