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Reduced perks and row over House leadership await MPs

Moses Wetangula formally enters National Assembly after being elected Speaker. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

As the 13th Parliament opens its doors on Thursday, it will roll out the red carpet for President William Ruto who will address the first joint parliamentary sitting.

And with the 349 members of the National Assembly having concluded a five-day induction at Safari Park Hotel, they now have an overflowing in-tray and an arduous task of picking up from where their predecessors left. Even before they set foot in the august House they have to contend with the adjustment of their perks and withdrawal of the National Government Constituency Development Funds (NG-CDF) kitty.

The Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) is currently at loggerheads with MPs who have expressed their dissatisfaction with the commission for the new emoluments it gazetted in the countdown to the August 9 general election that saw them lose sitting allowances and car grant abolished.

The lawmakers are fighting for the reintroduction of the car grant facility where every MP received a brand new car at the start of every new parliament and the reinstatement of the Sh5,000 they earned as sitting allowance for every plenary sitting of the House they attended.

SRC chairperson Lyn Mengich is, however, adamant that the commission will not be adding the legislators a penny more. Also on the MPs’ must do list  is the reinstatement of the NG-CDF funds which were declared illegal by the Supreme Court.  They are embroiled in a tussle with the National Treasury CS Ukur Yatani who earlier this week said he would not release Sh44b towards the fund citing a court order.

And upon commencement of the House on Thursday, a critical task will be determining the leadership of the House between the Kenya Kwanza and Azimio Coalitions. The parliamentary groups for the ruling and opposing coalitions will have to reach a decision on the Majority and Minority Leaders, Whips, Chairs and Vice chairs of parliamentary committees and their membership.

Already, an implosion has rocked the Azimio coalition party with member parties jostling for the top positions and “lucrative” committees. Affiliate parties are irked by the “hogging” of committee leadership positions by the Raila-Odinga-led ODM at their expense.

“Not everyone can be a leader. We need to agree with what has been decided by our principals so that we can be ready to be in committees so that we can discharge our duties as legislators,” said Samburu East MP Naisula Lesuuda from Kanu party.

Both Kenya Kwanza and Azimio la Umoja coalitions are also already putting heads over who constitutes the majority. Azimio claims to constitute the majority given its pre-election pact with 26 parties but Kenya Kwanza’s leader William Ruto has lured parliamentary minority parties - UDM, MDG and MPs elected independently to join his Kenya Alliance. Kenya Kwanza is further advancing the argument that based on individual parties, the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) headed by the President has the most seats and thus constitutes the majority.

National Assembly speaker Moses Wetangula is expected to make a ruling on which party constitutes the majority. He has promised to make a fair arbitration on the matter despite him being allied to the Kenya Kwanza coalition.

“This is a simple matter; I will handle it when it comes to my attention... I will provide direction on the matter,” said Wetangula during the MP’s induction session at Safari Park hotel in Nairobi.

Moreover, once Parliamentary committees are constituted, they will have the task of picking up from where the last House left; tracking the progress of the implementation of Bills, Motions and Report recommendations tabled and approved by members of the 12th Parliament.