Public interest suffers when voters follow politicians without question

A section of Kenya Kwanza senators sdahre a light moment after they saved Siaya Deputy Governor William Oduol from being impeached on June 26, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The Finance Act of 2023 is drawing mixed reactions from the public. There are those who believe we should tighten our belts, trust the government and give it the benefit of the doubt.

Although the immediate consequences of the law will lead to an increase in prices and further heighten the cost of living, they are willing to allow the government opportunity to keep its promises.

These are Kenyans who believe in and have confidence that political leaders will not let us down. Then, there are those who doubt the sincerity of our leaders, arguing that, the promises made during campaigns to lower cost of living, and prices for basic goods, utilities, and services and to end government borrowing, have not been kept.

In fact, they argue, political leaders are breaking promises faster than they make them. An example is the promise by the opposition to its supporters to shoot down contentious clauses in the Finance Bill, 2023 yet when time for voting came, some opposition MPs were absent or voted with the government side.

Many examples abound of unkept promises by political leaders in and outside government. Those that support some taxation clauses argue that those with payslips should build houses and pay higher taxes so that the unemployed and those at the bottom of the pyramid benefit.

Those with payslips are feeling overburdened by triple taxation because they take care of their immediate families, extended families, and their government and now they have to extend their stagnated payslips to other Kenyans.

State officers’ salaries are often increased to cushion them against the high cost of living but no pay rise for the rest of us even when we have negotiated CBAs.

The constitutional and legal frameworks provide a wide range of solutions and remedies including petitions to MPs individually, to Parliament and county assemblies, the Judiciary, protests and picketing.

Each with consequences, therefore, we should begin with the most peaceful, efficient and effective one. Street protests and picketing should be last resort and only if others fail. The Judiciary, although perceived by some to be currently suffering from diminishing public confidence and trust, can offer swift and expedited justice to aggrieved parties.

Those who don’t trust the Judiciary and support protests and picketing argue against the it’s diminished independence due to corruption and delays in rendering justice. The Judiciary should set aside the facilities to expedite matters arising from the Finance Act and related disputes to enable the country move forward, whatever the outcome.

To the majority, this will offer a national catharsis. All the parties concerned should be willing to accept decisions of the courts and give other Kenyans space to realise their full potential as they prepare to re-hire or fire elected representatives in 2027.

Finally, I believe we need a national civic education framework and institution urgently to provide continuous public awareness on public interest issues and mobilise and receive public opinion whenever it is required.

This would greatly enhance genuine public participation in governance and other national and county affairs. While Kenyans are perceptive and well-informed, there is need to increase our level of understanding and appreciation of our rights and responsibilities and the rights and responsibilities of our political leaders and how to truly hold them to account and demand justice.

Some MPs conduct themselves as if those who elected them don’t matter while most Kenyans are simply paralysed and don’t seem to know what to do next and this is why they get misused by devious politicians to hurt fellow Kenyans.

Public interest law is no longer visible, except in very few cases. I recall before 2010 when we did not have a credible Bill of Rights and all the current constitutional commissions that should but do not always defend our rights, civil society, and faith-based organisations were the voices and defenders of the people’s well-being, human rights, health, finances, negative administrative actions, and public interest matters.

Political leaders and their parties do not have a history of defending human rights unless it converges with their interests or advances their political agenda. We need more altruistic human rights defenders than politicians.