AJUOK: Poor quality of legislators negates principles of parliamentary democracy

Both Houses mostly empty as lawmakers don’t care about work.

In Summary
  • Beyond the impeachment motion, the Senate was a full House once again, because there was a matter requiring voting.
  • It has become the hallmark of the 13th Parliament that both the National Assembly and the Senate have become better known for lack of quorum.
Lawyer Katwa Kigen, impeached Kisii Deputy Governor Robert Monda and National Assembly Majority Whip Sylvanus Osoro at the Senate on March 13, 2024.
DEMOCRACY: Lawyer Katwa Kigen, impeached Kisii Deputy Governor Robert Monda and National Assembly Majority Whip Sylvanus Osoro at the Senate on March 13, 2024.

At midnight on Thursday, March 14, Robert Monda of Kisii county became the first deputy governor impeached by the Senate since the advent of devolution in 2013. The infamy was almost well deserved. In his defence before Senators, the DG appeared to have a difficult relationship with the truth and the facts of the case.

At some point, his own star witness, Joseph Misati, threw a huge spanner in the works, by declaring that Dr Monda was undergoing financial challenges and “struggling like all politicians”. The witness had neither factored in that this would paint the DG as vulnerable to bribes, the exact charge he was defending him from, nor that he was making his presentation before nearly 67 ‘judges’ of the Senate, all of them politicians. As a reminder of his gaffe, senators sarcastically referred to “struggling” for the two days of the impeachment hearings.

It may not have been clear to him at the time, but Dr Monda’s other mistake was bringing the National Assembly Majority Whip, Sylvanus Osoro, to the Senate as part of his legal defence team. For a seasoned politician, the DG should surely have known the tensions between the two Houses of Parliament would have Osoro’s appearance looking like an attempt by the ‘lower house’ to dictate to the Senate how to conduct an impeachment. Indeed, it was the majority, led quite volubly by Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei, who promptly asked Osoro to “go and fight Kisii Governor Simba Arati at funerals in their county, and stop using the Senate floor to prosecute local politics.”

Beyond the impeachment motion, the Senate was a full House once again, because there was a matter requiring voting. It has become the hallmark of the 13th Parliament that both the National Assembly and the Senate have become better known for empty seats and lack of quorum, until a motion or bill is on the floor requiring members to take the vote. All other times, the houses are uninspiring and dull.

Members of the National Assembly and Senators in this country commit so much in work, resources and time during campaigns for their elective positions. If the grapevine is to be believed, the cut-throat nature of the contests often drive some of them into certain nocturnal rituals, in birthday suits, that would turn owls green with envy, in attempting to outdo their opponents. Yet the absence of commitment to their work, shown by many of them, after being sworn into office, clearly contradicts their pre-election promises. It is difficult to understand this.

Yet the saddest part is not that MPs are staying absent from parliamentary duties, but increasingly, showing signs a large number of them do not get to understand the business they vote on. In a recent incident in Murang'a county, local farmers chased away officers who were to train them on how to remit taxes due on their avocado produce. Some local MPs loudly remarked they had no inkling that this remittance process had been firmly included in the Finance Bill 2023, which they had enthusiastically passed.

Many legislators now find it difficult to tour their political bases because of citizens’ increasing and disillusionment with perceived inaction by the government over increased taxation, the rising cost of living and general despondency within the population. Pro-government legislators now routinely get heckled by their voters during presidential tours of their regions.

I am sure they are yet to discern that they are the authors of their own fate, by their inability to embrace the mandate by speaking freely on behalf of their people, or at the very least, pushing a pro-people agenda on the floor of the house.

It so happens that the floor of the House is not the only venue witnessing the decline of the quality of engagement that should be vital in discourse within the leadership. TV talk shows have turned into the new theatre of the absurd, as far as Kenya Kwanza legislators are concerned. In those programmes, a legislator should be freer to engage, seeing as there is no voting to be done and no phone calls from State House bulldozing any position,

On Thursday last week, appearing on the popular Citizen TV morning show, Day Break, were Kilifi North MP Owen Baya, Mukurweini MP John Kagucia and their living nightmare, Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna. By now, you would imagine communication teams from Kenya Kwanza would have prep their legislators ahead of their appearances alongside the Nairobi Senator. This is especially true, given how the intellectual graveyard is now dotted with fellow politicians who have had the misfortune on this show of taking on his acerbic tongue. But the government side obviously “lacks ears”.

To be honest, the performance of Honourable Kagucia on the show was embarrassing, even to hardcore Azimio supporters who would otherwise toast to his demonstration of supreme ignorance. His attempts to explain the Sugar Bill and forex fluctuations that impact on the Kenya Shilling, for lack of a better phrase, felt like watching a duck wading furiously through mud. TV talk shows may not be an official platform for either the government or the opposition to position their agenda before the people, but they are a great mirror of prevailing legislative trends. Which is why they mean a lot to the populace.

Senator Sifuna has aptly summarised the majority side in both houses as the “put the question gang”. It is in reference to the majority’s affinity for limiting debate on crucial issues, and rushing on to vote, like programmed robots, for a position issued by their leadership without due regard for whatever impact this may have on the people. Indeed, the actions of these MPs create the avenue for the steady decline of the legislature as a frontier for democracy and representation of the people, reducing it to an appendage of the Executive, merely waiting for phone calls on voting positions.

Which reminds me of a recent observation by a friend as he watched one of the ‘Sifuna shows’ on TV. My friend pointed out that in all these talk shows, only the Nairobi senator comes armed with written and reading materials, and takes notes in between the contributions of panellists. It may not amount to much at casual glance, but it is the quintessential manifestation of attention to detail, one of the critical ingredients in both a good debater and a good legislator.

This explains why, while Sifuna mesmerises the nation with his performances, his fellow panellists use their time demanding respect and flaunting their credentials as veterans for good measure, or are plain out of their depth intellectually. It is possible that the legislature feels emasculated by Executive desires, or Kenya Kwanza, as a political formation and parliamentary majority, is just bad. But as far as the population is concerned, the growing distance between them and the people doesn’t portend good returns in 2027. If anything, the continued perception of legislators as alien to the needs of the people can only mean that a large number will lose their seats at the next election. And when that time comes, the people won’t care where the phone calls to activate the voting robots came from!

Political commentator 

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