TRULY THE WISE UPPER HOUSE?

Senate must not defend governors, risk its own credibility

The Senate is a nascent institution whose survival relies on public perception of its integrity sobriety, cogent debate

In Summary

• When senators volunteer to take briefs from such governors, it makes Kenyans wonder whether they believe in themselves or their government.

• This is a serious conflict of interest as the Senate's role is to protect counties' interests by ensuring resources are properly utilised.

Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen and Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko after Sonko's bail was posted on December 11.
BEST OF FRIENDS? Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen and Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko after Sonko's bail was posted on December 11.
Image: COURTESY

Governor Mike Sonko has been charged with the theft of Sh357 million from Nairobians through schemes such as garbage collection tenders.

For years he thrived on political philanthropy by dishing out handouts to the masses in the slums and enjoyed massive support for his good deeds, paying funeral costs, hospital bills, providing herses and wedding limousines.  

The DPP's office has quoted the Commissioner of Prisons who said that while Sonko was at Shimo La Tewa Prison, he sought treatment at the Coast General Hospital after which escaped from lawful custody. He was arrested.

 

Sonko has risen from MP to become the governor of Kenya's capital, the most important city and economic hub of East Africa. Our system is dysfunctional, often rewarding those who don't deserve it while punishing men and women of integrity who deserve our praise. This is akin to what the Bible tells us: the masses demanded that Barabbas be released and Jesus, the Saviour, be crucified.

 

What is more shocking, though, is how some of my colleagues in the Senate rushed to defend Sonko in court. This is a serious conflict of interest since the role of the Senate is to protect the interests of the counties by providing adequate resources and exercising oversight so that those resources are properly utilised.

When senators volunteer to take briefs from governors charged with corruption, it makes Kenyans wonder whether they can believe in themselves and their government. 

These are not your ordinary senators but those who occupy key positions such as the Majority leader, leader of Minority, Minority whip or committee chair. They seek to dominate everywhere, especially on the floor of the House, speaking more often and longer than others.

Such behaviour makes Kenyans wonder if legislators stand for something or whether they are fake and hypocritical.

Why would the Senate be taken seriously with such characters occupying the House leadership? To whom much is given, much is expected. It’s important for elected leaders to have some principles, some minimal scruples at least so they can be believable.

Otherwise, they look rudderless, or worse, in the eyes of the public. We need to restore the values as enshrined in Chapter Six of the Constitution on Leadership and Integrity.

 

GOVERNORSHIP AMBITIONS

A good number of senators have governorship ambitions in 2022, as Sonko did in 2017. When they behave in this manner, it looks as if they are defending their offices in advance by setting a precedent, procedurally and legally. They are, therefore, not doing it for the love of Sonko but for themselves, protecting their future right to privilege and pilferage.

The Senate is a nascent institution whose survival relies on public goodwill, lately with regards to the ongoing BBI discourse. When I asked Senator Yusuf Haji why he never used his chairmanship in the BBI task force to strengthen the Senate, he said it’s because the majority of Kenyans wanted it to be disbanded and the Hansard records are there as evidence.

The best he could do was to ensure ministers be appointed from Parliament and not just the National Assembly. 

Tellingly and innocent as it sounds, my own grandmother wondered openly the other day, "Who elects senators?" She had forgotten that she had done so in two elections and knows the name of her senator very well. 

The Senate’s leverage of importance in the court of public opinion thus lies with the perception of its sobriety, cogent debate and high moral standards. We position ourselves as the House of revision, devoid of capricious behaviour, frivolous and vexatious proceedings and unhelpful legislative motions.

We truly believe Kenya can be much better if senators are listened to more carefully — what with the great wisdom and institutional memory of experienced senators, servant leaders who have served in various capacities in the past.

If the Senate, whose term is derived from the word senior, loses its integrity and this last line of defence, it will be nothing more than an appendage of Parliament as the National Assembly and the Executive practice what I call bicameral unicameralism.

This is the act technically of having two Houses, but for all intents and purposes exercising authority as if one of them — the one that portends higher thresholds and elements of scrutiny — is unnecessary, too cumbersome and should be ignored. 

Senators cannot aid or be seen to aid that project. The Senate should be protected with all the dignity as a collective undertaking, starting with the leadership. Our individual integrity is covariant with the Senate’s integrity. For fraction is part of the whole. We shouldn’t allow our ethnopolitical derivatives to prosecute, defend and therefore supply political corruption.

Senators aren’t the only lawyers to take such briefs, especially so if one is also in House leadership. It’s simply chasing the loot. We should stand for something and greed should have some manners.