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Sugar affair: Why Parliament has failed Kenyans

Western MPs led by from left Geoffrey Otsosi, Ferdinand Wanyonyi, Emmanuel Wangwe and Benjamin Washiali address reporters on the Sugar report. [Boniface Okendo,Standard]

Has Parliament failed on its mandate? That is the question on the minds of many Kenyans. The rejection of the sugar report and the events surrounding it have brought anything but honor to the National Assembly.

Some people were least shocked noting that bribery is something akin to the August house. When I expressed my shock on social media, a friend of mine wondered whether I had just arrived in the country. To him, bribery in Parliament is something that has always existed, and only a naive person should be perplexed.

Some people have argued that leaders are a reflection of the society and, therefore, Kenyans have no right to complain given that they elected the same leaders. The argument is partly right. Elections in Kenya are never based on merit. Positions go to the highest bidder. Perhaps it is the enormous amounts of money spent in the campaigns that inspire our leaders to sacrifice their conscience at the altar of money.

Article 1 of the Constitution states that sovereignty belongs to the people. It goes further to delegate the sovereignty to the three arms of the government namely Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary. Of the three arms of government, Parliament is the most representative. The people directly elect its members.

Article 94 of the Constitution states that the legislative authority is derived from the people and at the national level is vested in Parliament. The people, therefore, felt that Parliament should exercise oversight over the other arms of government.

Parliament vets state officers such as the Director of Public Prosecutions and Director of Criminal Investigations. It determines whether they have enough integrity to serve Kenyans. That the same officers are now called upon to investigate bribery in Parliament is appalling.

The proponents of the separation of powers must be shaking their heads in disapproval following the allegations of bribery against the National Assembly. They are questioning the wisdom of bestowing the House with enormous power when it only serves to benefit crooks. The legislators must be beyond reproach.

They must be the last line of defence when national values and principles of governance are under threat. They must be ready to call evil by its name and to hold the evildoers to account.

The problem with Parliament is not only with the bribery allegations. It is its failure to protect its independence as enshrined in the supreme law.

The legislature has done little to assure Kenyans that it can hold the Executive to account. Instead, it has acted as a puppet of the Executive, rubberstamping its decisions.

 The recent remarks by Jubilee Party Vice Chair David Murathe, warning the party's Parliamentarians against supporting motions that seek to impeach Cabinet Secretaries are the clearest indication that the executive controls Parliament.

Instead of defending their independence, the 'honourable' members seem to have resigned to fate. I can bet my last coin that the proposed impeachment of certain cabinet secretaries won't see the light of the day.

The confusion over the state of the sugar that was imported is another pointer to the failure of our institutions. It is difficult to imagine that in a country that claims to be governed by the rule of law, poisonous sugar could find its way into the market.

Kenyans are heavily taxed to pay the salaries of state officers whose roles include to ensuring the safety of products that come into the country. However, the same officers have gone to bed with the barons and turned a blind eye to the concerns of the people. It is at this point that the people seek the protection of the MPs, which is not too much to ask.

 With the sugar report thrown out, Kenyans will never know whether their sugar is safe or not. The sugar barons, on the other hand, can roam knowing that they are untouchable.

In as much as we condemn the MPs for rejecting the sugar report, the members of the Sugar committee cannot absolve themselves from blame. They are no saints.

Before the tabling of the report there was discontent within the committee, with some members accusing their colleagues of doctoring the document. This raised questions about the integrity of the report and the ability of Parliamentary committees to carry out thorough investigations.

Further, those who rejected the report claimed it did not address the pertinent issues that were raised over the sugar and that its recommendations were flawed. The claims by the committee chair, Kanini Kega that they faced obstruction from some state officials during their investigations further points to the inefficiency of Parliament.

Parliamentary committees are not ordinary gatherings. Article 125(2) gives them the same power as the High Court when it comes to enforcing the attendance of witnesses, compelling the production of documents and issuing a commission or request to examine witnesses abroad.

 The provision means that any person who fails to cooperate with a committee of Parliament is guilty of contempt and should be committed to civil jail. That the committee could allow junior officers to obstruct it, therefore, does not add up. Parliamentarians, being state officers are bound by the national values and principles of governance under article 10 of the constitution which include integrity and transparency. They need to stand up to those values and protect Kenyans.

The writer is a final year law student at the University of Nairobi