MPs can pursue growth through effective laws and oversight

President William Ruto together with Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua at State House, Nairobi, had a working breakfast with MPs from Jubilee party led by Sabina Chege and Kanini Kega on January 23, 2023. [PCS, Standard]

The Constitution of Kenya 2010 transferred the responsibility of budget-making from the Executive to the National Assembly. Effectively, the Executive can no longer use the budget as a tool for manipulating the opposition.

Previously, the president would literally control the budget making and appropriation, enabling him to reward politicians and regions that were seen to be loyal to him and deny funding to opposition areas.

Those who agreed to play ball, tokens of development would be directed to their constituencies. A school or clinic would be built by the government; an earth road would be repaired; the president would conduct a fund-raiser for churches; and a few people would be appointed to boards of State corporations.

The president would then go public and point at the development that had been achieved by that region after they started working with the government. Of course, loyal politicians would be given some money from time to time to donate at public fundraising events.

Politicians who didn't benefit from the State cash could not donate as much money in such functions, which were frequent. The sponsored loyal politicians would then lambast their hard-headed colleagues as leaders who were against the development of their people.

Ruling party operatives would publicly humiliate the hard-headed politicians for donating peanuts compared to the huge sums that were dolled out by those who were loyal to the President.

Over time, pressure began to mount on the "anti-development" politicians to join their colleagues in supporting the government so that development could go to their constituencies as well. The political dispensation of that time was grossly anti-democracy. It marked the height of defections by politicians from the opposition to the ruling party.

Once the president achieved enough numbers in Parliament to enable him pass whatever legislation he desired, the issue of development took a back seat. The promises that were made remained just that; promises. Once cornered to support the ruling party, opposition politicians didn't have a reverse gear.

The inter-party suspicions were so high between the ruling party and the opposition that chances of winning a seat became almost nil for politicians who crossed over from the ruling party to the opposition. They were almost invariably treated as traitors. Politicians lived in a constant fear.

All this changed with the new constitutional dispensation that heralded a new budgeting process. The legislators now have inordinate powers to decide on priority areas where the national revenues are to be appropriated. Tables have been turned against the Executive.

Now, if the president needs certain items or preferred projects included in the budget, he must consult with Parliament. So, development no longer emanates from State House, but Parliament. A good legislator who wants development for his or her people must therefore, be able to sit in Parliament and scrutinise budgetary provisions before they are passed.

Why some politicians don't understand this simple process is what baffles me. When they go to State House ostensibly to look for development while leaving behind the same development in Parliament, what does this say about them?

But do politicians have a right to go to State House? Yes, they do. That's the seat of power in Kenya. The president is the leader of all Kenyans. Any Kenyan has a right to consult with him on any issue affecting them. Unfortunately, not all Kenyans can access State House at will. So, they entrust their leaders to do that on their behalf.

The question then is: when politicians visit the State House, do they do so to present their constituents' issues? Without prior consultations with the electorate, it is believed that visits to the State House are largely meant to benefit the leaders, and not their constituents.

The opposition parties whose members visit State House naturally become jittery over such visits, which are interpreted as attempts by the president to woo opposition legislators to the government side to shore up their numbers in Parliament.

The arguments are that legislators are elected by their constituents based on a specific manifesto. When they support the opposition, it is interpreted that they have abandoned their manifestos without authority from the electorate, which amounts to a breach of Social Contract between the leaders and the electorate.

Such leaders, therefore, lose the mandate and legitimacy to continue in their positions as legislators.

Some people have argued that there's absolutely nothing wrong with MPs visiting the president in his capacity as the leader of the Executive wing of the government. Theoretically, the argument is plausible. The Legislature, Judiciary and the Executive should work in harmony in order to achieve goal conguence.

When there is harmony and a glue of trust that binds the three arms of government, the country is placed at a better place to achieve its development targets. The question is how such consultations should be organised. The example of the US should suffice here.

The US Congress and Senate comprise members from two main political parties, the Republican Party and Democratic Party. Whenever there's an important matter to be discussed, the leadership of each party causes their Caucus to meet and canvass the matter. Inter-party consultations are agreed upon at the level of the Caucus. The party takes a common position, and all congressmen and senators are obligated to abide by it.

When there is a matter of national importance, such as imminent "shut down" of the country, that requires the personal intervention of the president in his capacity as the leader of the nation, the president reaches out to both sides of the political aisle to create a consensus.

If there is a need for a party or both parties to meet the president, it is clearly done on behalf of the American people. The president seeks to create a middle ground that can help the country to break the deadlock and move forward. Americans call it the bipartisan approach. It is done openly and honestly. It is never envisaged that a few congressmen or women can sneak into the White House and discuss a matter as important as development without the knowledge of their party leadership and Caucus.

As for our MPs, if it is something that's potentially beneficial to constituents, then why sneak into State House? Moreover, why should they look for development through State House, and not Parliament which has responsibility over the budget

Kenya needs to build strong institutions in order to support its fledgling democracy. With a mature democracy, Kenyans can go about their businesses, confident that no leader can take them back to the autocratic days of the pre-2010 constitutional dispensation.

Legislators should appreciate that as public servants, their calling is selfless service to the citizens. Unfortunately, the bulk of them see their positions as opportunities to pursue selfish ends; to cut deals and enrich themselves at the expense of the citizens.

It is against this backdrop that the recent visits by ODM and Jubilee MPs to State House have been interpreted. Shortly after the visits, some MPs started throwing salvos at their political parties. Did they just discover after the visits to the State House that there were wrong things going on within their political parties? Why couldn't they explore internal mechanisms to seek to correct the situations from within the parties?

Something isn't just adding up here, and especially in view of the fact that the leader of the ruling party has recently sent to Parliament a raft of proposals for constitutional amendments.

There's a Supreme Court ruling that bars the president from initiating constitutional amendments. But who cares in this country? Once there are enough numbers to push through whatever amendments the ruling party desires, it will be done. This country has a history of ignoring rulings. Many people suspect that the imminent constitutional amendments are the motivation for inviting opposition legislators to State House. Time will be the best judge.

I think Kenyans have a duty to step up their oversight roles at the county and national levels in order to unlock the development potential. It is estimated that up to one third of annual budgets wasted through wrong priorities and corruption.

The investigative agencies need to move in with speed to protect citizens against rapacious leaders.

Only recently, Siaya Governor James Orengo created a committee under former Auditor General Edward Ouko to investigate the robustness of the financial and other systems of the county with a view to giving practical proposals on how to improve them. The extent of malfeasance reported by the committee is heart-rending.

The corrupt practices revealed in Siaya County are actually replicated in most, if not all, of the counties. Something needs to be done, and done urgently to rescue our counties.

The surest way to transform Kenya is to allocate more resources for development, and step up internal controls to stem pilferage. With better management of resources, there will no longer be any need for leaders to go to State House to look for development.

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