“When Raila was at Uhuru Park things were ugly. When Kajwang stood there as Chief Justice, where were they?” ...
Why your MP doesn't know what you want
The debt crisis, the price of fuel and the cost of living are maddening for ordinary Kenyans who seek clarification and compromise from the Kenyan governing class — but they are not the only reasons the public is growing frustrated with their elected Members of Parliament.
Recently, Kenyans were treated to a spectacle of MPs, allegedly allied to DP William Ruto, from the five landlocked counties of Nairobi, Kajiado, Nakuru, Machakos and Kiambu who called a presser to voice their lamentations about the plight of Kenyans apparently ignored by the government (Here I was wallowing in the miasma that parliamentarians form the second arm of Government).
The group led by Senator Susan Kihika (Nakuru County), MPs Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu) and John Kiarie (Dagoretti) urged the government to use the money set aside for the referendum to cushion Kenyans and help them bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also urged the government to use funds from a recent IMF loan to vaccinate Kenyans in the race towards herd immunity. Not bad ideas but note the context. It is like a professor giving an inaugural lecture in a bar.
The last time I checked the role of a Member of Parliament is crystal clear. Chapter Eight of the Constitution of Kenya establishes the Legislature. Article 93 of the Constitution states that “there is established a Parliament of Kenya,” (Parliament) “which shall consist of the National Assembly and the Senate.” The two Houses of Parliament shall perform their respective functions in accordance with the Constitution as stated in Article 93 (2) of the Constitution.
These functions are to represent, legislate and oversight. MPs are people’s representatives and so have the obligation to voice the interests of their constituencies. Secondly, the work of the MP is to rationally debate and ensure just laws are implemented by the Executive and the Judiciary. Thirdly, it is the work of the MPs to oversight the Executive and Judiciary. This is why Parliament has several committees that scrutinise government functioning for transparency and accountability. In essence, MPs work through committees in Parliament.
- READ MORE
- Victims point out serial rapist at police ID parade
- Our politicians are like an old witch blocking people on the road - Orengo
- Miserable couples bid for freedom after kids leave nest
- Female cop wed two junior officers
Back to our MPs playing to the gallery. When did it dawn on Kihika and company that Kenyans are suffering? Where were they when the few cushions granted earlier were removed through Parliament? What pieces of legislation have they passed in Parliament to cushion Kenyans? Isn’t it Parliament that allowed the Executive to increase the debt cap? Indeed, this spectacle by MPs is akin to parents joining children to decry lack of food or the Inspector General of Police lamenting lawlessness in the country. To add insult to injury, this is not limited to Parliament. Remember President Kenyatta is on record lamenting how the country loses Sh2 billion to corruption every day. Sometime back, he had similarly decried the state of affairs and added the rider “Mnataka nifanye nini jameni?” Meaning, “Surely, what more do you want me to do?”
While MPs were having a photoshoot in a five star hotel in the city, Kenyans had gatecrashed the official website of International Monetary Fund (IMF) to urge the lender of last resort not to acquiesce to Kenya’s begging bowl for yet another loan. What accounts for this gulf between Parliament and its electorate? Why, pray, are MPs clueless about what the people want? Here is food for thought.
The educational and occupational chasm between legislators and the electorate has worsened over the years. Your average MP is more likely to be college or university educated while most of the electorate barely completed secondary level of education. Unlike before when most legislators held secondary school level of education, apparently the ‘representative’ element of representational democracy is now optional.
In recent years, more numbers of women, youth and candidates of ethnic minority status are being elected to the House. However, these promising signs mask the dark reality that ordinary voters have become increasingly voiceless in in the August House — and that they’re getting pretty sick of it.
In terms of occupation, gone are the days when Parliament was buoyed by higher rates of blue collar labourers, teachers, and non-university educated representatives. It appears that working-class credentials are simply tokenistic extras in a parliamentary political system that relies on an educated bureaucracy. Don’t forget that most of our legislators live in leafy suburbs away from the hustle and bustle of common problems.
There is a bleak conclusion to be drawn from all this — that the majority of legislators share little direct experience with the constituents they claim to represent. This is not irrelevant: feeling adequately represented by your elected member is precisely what distinguishes functioning a democracy from an elective aristocracy in disguise.
Members in representative democracies aren’t necessarily elected because they ‘know best’, but because they are typically one of the few self-selecting choices available. MPs need to avoid haughty presumptions that they understand their constituents’ needs better than they actually do.
The reasons behind this narrowing social distinction in the August House are varied. One obvious issue of concern is the rising cost of becoming a Member of Parliament.
Recent estimates put the price tag of running an effective campaign for Member of Parliament at a hefty Sh15 million to Sh30 million depending on whether the constituency is urban or rural and densely or sparsely populated. In essence, this locks out decent, well-meaning and responsible leaders. More importantly, it makes it almost impossible for a legislator who is representative of the people to be elected.
Politicians are usually expected to represent their constituents’ preferences. But many people observe that parliamentary representatives diverge significantly from their constituents’ needs and preferences. Why does this continue to be the case? What important factors drive this divergence and what can we, the people do to improve congruence? The rules and institutions used to translate preferences into elected outcomes have a profound impact on the nature of representation provided by a political system. Forms of direct, participatory and deliberative democracy need to be introduced at the local level in an attempt to address this political disengagement and the inequality it entails
Ultimately, unless politics is democratised — by introducing stricter representative requirements and an emphasis on suitability rather than educational, occupational background, political expediency and gerrymandering — the executive will continue to effectively wrestle control away from “We the people”. Politicians need to swiftly take stock of the breach of faith between themselves and their electorate before the current barrage of verbal vitriol explodes into something far more sinister.
Edwin Wanjawa teaches in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Pwani University.