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MPs threaten to reject campaign spending cap, say it's time-barred

Parliament in session [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

MPs have threatened to shoot down tough regulations by the electoral commission that seek to curb runaway election campaign spending.

The lawmakers yesterday appeared rattled by the decision by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to issue a gazette notice spelling the maximum amount to be spent by individuals seeking elective positions.

The members accused IEBC of delaying the regulations. They said it was late for the House to consider the Election Campaign Financing Regulations 2020. The lawmakers said the commission failed to submit the regulations within the required timelines that state the Election Campaign Financing Act, 2013 be in place one year to the election.

The next General Election will be conducted on August 9, 2022. The regulations were tabled in the National Assembly last Thursday, before they were committed before the National Assembly Delegated Committee.

The committee supposed to scrutinise the regulations is today set to meet IEBC bosses to deliberate on the rules that, among others, have set a limit on what a candidate can spend in the campaigns. The rules also require political parties and aspirants to open specific bank accounts for campaign cash.

Yesterday, MPs protested why IEBC led by chairman Wafula Chebukati gazetted the regulations before they are approved by the House, with some members suggesting that the document was not properly before the House and therefore should not be considered by the committee.

But Speaker Justin Muturi ruled that the committee should proceed and scrutinise the rules before making recommendations.

Muturi said in the event the House rejects the regulations, the commission should not blame MPs for frustrating them. “It is also not fair for anybody to suggest that this House has sat on any regulations. Should anybody feel there is need to shorten the time for consideration of the regulations, they can approach the Justice and Legal Affairs committee to kick-start the process,” said Muturi.

He said: “Keeping with good practices, let the Committee of Delegated Legislation consider those instruments and make whatever recommendations they find appropriate in the circumstances and the House will be also at liberty to debate the recommendations of the committee and resolve as necessary.” National Assembly Majority Leader Amos Kimunya and his minority counterpart John Mbadi led the House in reading the riot act to IEBC bosses.

Kimunya said the regulations were likely to be dropped by the House for being time-barred. “I doubt if the campaign financing regulations will see the light of day,” said Kimunya.

“IEBC has been lying idle yet we are financing them with billions every year. You cannot be spending Sh40 billion every five years to conduct an election. There is something fundamentally wrong given the technology we have in this country; it should not be costing more than Sh10 billion,” he added.

Mbadi said the House should send a warning to the commission by rejecting the regulations.

He accused the commission of attempting to violate standing orders of the House by gazetting the regulations before consideration by the House. “The fact that regulations are brought here does not mean the House will approve them. In the event they are not approved, IEBC should have provided us enough time even for reconsideration of the issues contained in the Campaign Financing Regulations,” said Mbadi.

“They are in violation of our standing orders and interference with the people’s sovereign power that’s being exercised in this House. They should keep quiet until we write to them so that they know, whether we will have this Campaign Financing Regulations,” added the ODM national chairman.

Minority Whip Junet Mohamed said the commission should not blame Parliament if the regulations do not come to effect in the 2022 General Election.

“I have not seen anywhere where IEBC has done public participation as required. How do you expect the House to pass these regulations yet they brought them one week to the deadline and they had four years at their disposal?” posed Junet.

“We must follow what the Constitution dictates, and if the delegated legislation will look at them they have to do public participation and this will take 12 months,” added Junet.

In the regulations, political parties and candidates will have to open bank accounts to manage campaign money.

And in the event a candidate dies or withdraws, the account shall be closed after all unpaid claims and surplus electoral funds, have been dealt with and a copy of the bank statement submitted to IEBC.

Yesterday, the election spending limits released by commission continued eliciting varied reactions. 

Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi faulted IEBC saying it did not follow procedure in gazetting the spending ceilings and campaign regulations.

“I have an issue with the procedure adopted by the IEBC in promulgating these limits. As it is, the parent Election Financing Regulations Act 2013 provides that before IEBC publishes the regulations in the Kenya gazette, Parliament has to approve them. This did not happen,” said Wandayi.

He said the regulations were submitted to Parliament last week and are currently before the Delegated Legislation Committee which is yet to report back to the whole House.

“IEBC is jumping the gun. I know they are trying to beat the one-year publication timeline as stipulated by law but they went about it the wrong way. That aside, it is important that we have these regulations operationalised so that we can have some sanity in the way campaigns are financed,” added the MP.

Kiminini MP Chris Wamalwa said the spending ceilings were prohibitive and exaggerated.

“The figures on the spending limits are exaggerated and unrealistic. They are prohibitive to young people who would wish to seek political positions. The ceilings show these positions are reserved for a certain class,” said wamalwa.

He criticised the IEBC for not allowing public participation on the regulations.  

“According to the law, public participation must be conducted on the regulations after the committee receives them but again this did not happen,” said Wamalwa.

On the flipside, MCAs were concerned that IEBC was promoting graft by allowing spending of as much as Sh20 million.

South B MCA Waithera Chege said there is a thin line between big money and the electoral process, noting that the challenge was in Kenya’s political system where majority of political contributions come from a few individuals.   

“How do you even say an MCA is allowed to spend up to Sh20 million whereas it amounts to the Ward Development Fund budget for a financial year? What is the return on investment? Corruption?” posed Ms Waithera.

“They (MCAs) can’t recover the amount through salaries and allowances therefore we are about to see high cases of graft in coming years. Chebukati should  resign or focus on 2022 preparations,” she added.

Nairobi Assembly Majority leader Abdi Guyo termed the proposals unrealistic.

“In the current economy, Sh20 million is too much for an MCA. The spending limits are also too high of a ceiling to be set by IEBC and they should review the same downwards,” said Guyo.

Kilimani MCA Moses Ogeto said IEBC lacks a way of tracking aspirants’ spending.

“It is not practical for you to spend close to Sh20 million only to earn a salary of approximately Sh144,000. You will get frustrated and start engaging in corruption to recover your money,” Mr Ogeto said.

“You only need between Sh4 million and Sh5 million to clinch an MCA seat in Nairobi and even less in other areas. The proposals are  not practical. It is not easy to track the spending by political aspirants who at times use proxies,” added the MCA.

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