House of disgrace: 12th Parliament's ignoble surrender to Executive

National Assembly Members of Parliament during the opening of the 12th Parliament in 2019. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

As the curtain comes down on Kenya’s 12th Parliament, it will be remembered as a self-focused utilitarian and transactional Parliament. It was a House that served not the interests of the people, but partisan political interests in both chambers, driven by self-absorption.

The nation’s political records and the Hansard will speak of an entity that was fashioned for democracy, but degenerated into a tool in the hands of a superior political class and its brokers. Parliament fought sundry battles for President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga. 

But the history of the 12th Parliament will, especially, bring out the portrait of President Uhuru  as a wily and deft political craftsman, and Raila as a mercurial tactician who used Parliament to sustain his political relevance after the 2017 election debacle. Similarly, Ruto will be recalled as a shrewd individual, who ran away with a section of Parliament and shielded himself behind it, in the face of a hostile president and that of the foremost oppositionist, Raila; both seeking to annihilate him politically. 

The profile of the retiring Parliament is easily best reflected in the words of the Minority Whip, Junet Mohamed of ODM, on the occasion of the removal of Garissa Town MP, Aden Duale, as the Leader of the Majority in the National Assembly, at the behest of President Uhuru. “As for Duale, when you see us following Baba like cows, it is because we fear the consequences like what you are facing today,” he said.

 Mohamed was contributing to the motion on change of House leadership in June 2020, when Kipipiri MP, Amos Kimunya, replaced Duale, who fell afoul of the president, because of his fidelity to the deputy president. The Suna East MP rededicated himself to the ODM leader. He proclaimed that he would never want to end up the same way as Duale. Duale fell in a purge that also saw the removal of several other Jubilee MPs from House committee leaderships. Some of the more notable were Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu, National Assembly), Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu, National Assembly) Kithure Kindiki (Tharaka-Nithi, Senate), Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo-Markwet, Senate) and Susan Kihika (Nakuru County, Senate). 

Throughout the life of the 12th Parliament, Uhuru has been shrewd and ruthless in his dealings with Parliament. He is the one leader who effectively paralysed one of the three arms of Government and turned it into an efficient political instrument in his hands. In a complete departure from his three predecessors, he has personally whipped Parliament from State House. This is the highest seat of power in the country.

When MPs are summoned here, they come not to deliberate, but sufficiently humbled to yield to legislative and political instructions from the Executive. They register their presence, take tea and snacks and wait for the address of the day, and whatever else there could be. They then leave to go and do as they have been told. Woe unto those who digress from the script. 

They have had to learn the hard way. You don’t cross President Uhuru and continue to have it soft when you are a legislator. You will be removed from the lucrative perks and the glittering trappings of good living and prestige that go with leadership positions in Parliament. But you could also find yourself before the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, facing both legitimate and invented accusations of impropriety over public funds under your watch. Only the daredevils and the innocent have withstood the pressure from State House. 

Most effective whip

In the case of county governors, Parliament has been a most effective whip to get them to toe the straight and narrow line. While the office of Auditor General and that of Controller of Budget have had serious reservations on financial propriety in the counties, few governors have had any serious challenges as a result. Even those who run into trouble with county parliaments have been rescued by the Senate, provided that they were on the right side of the Executive.

Senate impeached Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu Baba Yao, and his Nairobi counterpart, Gideon Mbuvi Sonko, who had fallen out with State House. On the other hand, a motion to impeach Kirinyaga Governor, Ann Waiguru, fell through twice, because she was on the correct side. 

The method of managing the impeachment process has also varied, depending on whether the culprit was perceived to be system-friendly, or on the wrong side of the Executive. A governor whom the state wants to save has been subjected to select committees that have turned favourable reports to the House, while those who are perceived to be bad boys have been mauled by the entire House.

When Waiguru was in the right books, her matter was processed through a committee whose report was hugely suspect. To boot, she visited the ODM leader’s private offices in Upper Hill, where she underwent the proverbial single-shot cleansing, mwosho mmoja tu! A smiling and chuckling Raila administered upon her an anti-Covid-19 virus sanitiser, edifying the joke that his office had become the place to cleanse economic offences against the republic.

Waiguru seemed quite safe, thereafter,  until the day she defected to the Ruto camp. Then the same allegations of corruption in Kirinyaga County were resurrected, with Parliament being lined up, besides EACC and DCI, to deal with her.

The parliamentary path has proved elusive, however, as Ruto has his own strand and following there. In January 2020, pro-Ruto MPs, who numbered 150, assembled in Naivasha, in a symbolic show of might, and to demonstrate that they were ready to face any adverse motions in Parliament against their man.  

Ruto has found succor behind the 150. In bad times, they have dared his adversaries to dare bring a motion of impeachment against him in Parliament. The impeachment process for a deputy president is far more complex than a governor’s. In the DP’s case, a member of the National Assembly supported by a third of the assembly (say 96 members must move a motion of impeachment. At least two-thirds of the assembly, that is 194 members, must support the motion, which will then go to the Senate, and must also enjoy a two-third support to impeach the DP. But first, a committee of 11 will investigate the matter and even invite the DP to defend himself.

Impeach a DP

The committee of 11 can commute the matter at this point, if it is not satisfied by the claims in the impeachment motion. Under articles 150 and 145 of the Constitution, it is, therefore, not an easy matter to impeach a DP who enjoys the kind of following Ruto has had in the 12th Parliament.

Aware of these realities, Ruto’s adversaries have loudly called for him to resign, but he has dug in, knowing that their bark is sharper than their bite, even in the context where President Uhuru and Raila fused a portion of the ruling party with the Opposition under an informal covenant that has resided in their March 2018 handshake.

 Separately, the 12th Parliament, like the 11th before it, failed to discuss the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Report. But it did even worse by watering down the report, whose failure to be implemented remains the key to many of the public controversies in the country today.

The report was handed to the president in May 2013. President Uhuru in turn handed it over to Parliament in his first state of the nation address to the joint Houses of Parliament. The office of the president has since been accused of frustrating efforts to debate and implement the report. 

Parliament was meant to debate the report and have it implemented beginning six months from the date of the report. This has not happened, ostensibly because the office of the president has found it sensitive, as it names persons who should not be named. Moreover, summaries of the report which were meant to be made public within the same six-month period have never been issued.

The report is nowhere to be interacted with in Kenya, despite the fact that its release to the president and his submission to Parliament made it a public document. Such documents should be accessed without any hindrance to the public. Parliament has failed to even ensure that Kenyans have access to the report. Meanwhile, accusations and counter-accusations on the matters contained in the report abound in public space. 

Big failure

The management of the TJRC report is a big failure on the part of a Parliament that was supposed to have functioned in Kenya’s most democratised political and legal environment. Earlier Parliaments, before 2010, operated in draconian environments, yet found it possible to be assertive.

The third Parliament (1974 – 1979) remains the most principled and assertive House in the country, on account of the candour and patriotism with which it addressed national issues.

That was the Parliament in which leaders like JM Kariuki (Nyandarua North), Chief Gitonga (Kitui East), Elijah Mwangale (Bungoma East), Martin Shikuku (Butere), Mark Mwithaga (Nakuru Town), Mwangi Karungaru (Embakasi), Charles Rubia (Starehe), George Anyona (Kitutu East), Chelagat Mutai (Eldoret North), Jean Marie Seroney (Tindret) and Yunis Ali (Langata), among others, were an essential opposition under a one party regime.

Even ministers like Masinde Muliro and Peter Kibisu found it possible to stand up to the government of the day. 

 Placed on the weighing scales of representation of the people, oversight and even legislation, Kenya’s 12thParliament will receive harsh judgement in the court of history. It will be remembered as a hugely divided partisan institution that failed to live to the credo of serving conscientiously. It was huge on noise, sycophancy and self-sating politics.

It failed to enact gender laws, made unconstitutional laws, and burdened the country with a debilitating cost of living. Worst of all, it played the sycophant to the Executive, in a country where the doctrine of separation of powers and ruling through the principle of checks and balances is a constitutional imperative. 

As the sun sets on Kenya’s 12th Parliament, those in the business of prayer will possibly pray that a different kind of MP returns in the 13th Parliament, later in the year. This will be an MP who recognises that she is not a cow, no matter how loyal she may be to her party boss, or to the president.

He will be an MP who understands that there is a higher kind of loyalty, that is loyalty to the country and to God. The 12th Parliament failed in this regard.