Azimio Senators: Only committees can grill CSs, not whole House

Cabinet Secretaries during a Cabinet Meeting at State House Nairobi on April 18, 2023. [Courtesy Twitter]

The Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition has opened a fresh fight with the government over a move to summon Cabinet secretaries to answer questions in Parliament.

Senators allied to Azimio have filed a petition at the High Court arguing that their Kenya Kwanza counterparts illegally amended the Standing Orders to sanction the move.

"Amendment to the Standing Orders have the consequences of amending provisions of Article 153(3) of the Constitution by allowing Cabinet secretaries to appear before the whole House when the Constitution only allows them to appear before committees," say the senators.

Article 153(3) provides that a Cabinet secretary shall attend before a committee of the National Assembly, or the Senate, when required by the committee, and answer any question concerning a matter for which the CS is responsible.

The 23 Azimio senators, in their petition filed through lawyer Duncan Anzala, say that the whole House does not constitute a committee as envisaged in the Constitution and amounts to changing the law through the back door.

"To the extent that the Senate Standing Orders seek to amend express provisions of the Constitution without following the laid-down mechanisms, they are ultra vires and unconstitutional," said Mr Anzala.

The senators who filed the petition include Steward Madzayo, Edwin Sifuna, Ledama Olekina, Catherine Mumma, Mohamed Faki, Okiya Omtatah, Moses Kajwang', Okong'o Omogeni, Daniel Maanzo, Johnes Mwaruma, Oburu Oginga, Eddy Oketch and Richard Onyonka.

Others are Godfrey Osotsi, Enoch Wambua, Agnes Muthama, Hamida Kibwana, Hezena Lematian, Crystal Asige, Boy Juma, Beatrice Ogola, Beth Syengo and Betty Batuli.

According to the senators, the plan to illegally change the Standing Orders was commenced by President William Ruto on December 9, 2022 when he instructed both the Senate and National Assembly Speakers to formulate mechanisms to allow CSs to appear before Parliament.

"As a result of the president's inter-meddling with Parliament, the majority leader in Senate notified the Speaker on March 9 of the intention to amend the rules, which was proposed and passed on March 21," said Anzala.

Under the changes made to the Standing Orders, the clerk of the Senate is required to schedule questions to be responded to by a CS and the senators be notified a week in advance.

The changes also provide for procedures of asking questions where senators are required to hand to the clerk a written notification, and that the Speaker has power to reject any question.

The National Assembly has so far summoned Interior Cabinet Secretary Kindiki Kithure to answer questions.

The petitioners want the court to declare these changes illegal, null, void and unconstitutional.

High Court Judge Hedwig Ong'udi certified the suit as urgent and directed the clerk to the Senate and the Attorney General to respond within five days. She scheduled the hearing for April 25.

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