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225 MPs skipped Uhuru's address in Parliament

Mbita MP Millie Odhiambo in Parliament building where she was sent out for causing disturbance

Key allies of CORD co-principal Raila Odinga and some Jubilee MPs skipped President Uhuru Kenyatta’s State of the Nation address on Thursday.

Official parliamentary records compiled by the Sergeant-at-Arms and from the biometric scanner at the entrance of the House show that 225 MPs either failed to register in the daily attendance list or did not show up at all.

The list shows that there were 151 MPs and 40 Senators in the joint sitting of Parliament against a total membership of 416 of both Houses.

Nearly half of the Senate — 27 Senators—skipped, and the notable absentees in the House were from the Opposition.

The Standard on Sunday, watching from the Press Gallery, counted 314 MPs in the House, which  means that 103 MPs failed to register that they were in the House, and 102 MPs simply did not show up.

MPs register by pressing their thumb-prints on a biometric scanner at the door as they walk in, it is these records that are used to compile sitting allowances. The others simply sign on a piece of paper under the custody of the sergeant-at-arms.

While it is not a misdemeanour not to attend a presidential address, the speech is usually taken seriously in Parliament because it is the Executive’s way to inform the legislature of the national policies and priorities, and reach out for legislative support for some of the government projects.

The presidential speeches are taken seriously that the House rules provide that the Senate and National Assembly have to discuss it for a maximum of four sitting days.

“Whenever the President delivers an Address, a member may as soon as practicable thereafter, lay the Address on the Table of the House following the reading of such Address,” reads the Standing Order 24(5).

The majority of the opposition MPs who blew whistles and heckled the President did not bother to register on the attendance list.

“It is rare for me not to register at the door. The way people were walking in in droves, it is possible I did not press my finger there. It is also possible that the machines are faulty, because, I think I pressed but the machine did not read,” said MP John Mbadi when asked if the failure to register was intentional.

Miss allowances

The attendance list is the official document that the accountants in Parliament use to compute allowances, and the missing 225 will not be paid for that day, said a source familiar with the accounting procedures, who declined to be named to avoid a backlash from the lawmakers.

Telephone calls to the MPs listed as absent to get an explanation as to why they missed the session, went unanswered. But Mr Mbadi, who is also the ODM national chairman, told The Standard on Sunday that the legislators' absence was possibly because of “other pressing national matters.”

As for Jubilee, their leaders still feel aggrieved by the heckling.

The Senate Majority Leader Kithure Kindiki said what was witnessed in the House was disappointing and did not reflect well with Kenyans.

“The responsibility lies with the individual members. Engaging in misconduct lowers the honourable members’ dignity. If the lawmakers didn’t want to listen to the President they had the option to walk out. Whistling was childish and a  primitive way of doing things... It was the biggest blunder on the part of the Opposition to pre-empt the President’s speech,” said Prof Kindiki, the Tharaka Nithi senator.

Mandera Senator Billow Kerrow concurred with his colleagues that the CORD leaders out did themselves.

“I think the CORD MPs went a bit overboard. It did not have to end in forceful removal from the House. Once they made their protest, they should have complied with the Speakers orders to leave...” Besides, they would have had a greater impact if they kept out of the House and protested outside,” said Senator Kerrow.

Kiambu Senator Kimani Wamatangi, who took the seat reserved for Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetang'ula, was also upset. He said what happened dishonoured Parliament.

“It was simply seeking cheap publicity and I believe these members are feeling ashamed,” said Wamatangi.

The Houses are on recess until February 12.

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