Sunday, December 21, 2008



By Edward Kisiang’ani

Over the past few months, Parliament has attracted public attention for wrong reasons. On one hand, the principle of separation of powers in Government authorises the Legislature to make good laws, the Executive to implement the laws and the Judiciary to interpret the statues and resolve conflicts. The Press, on the other hand, is entrusted with the responsibility of reporting the activities of the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. Consequently, modern government consists of four branches — the Legislature, the Executive the Judiciary and the Press. In a functioning democracy, each of these divisions performs their duties by providing the necessary checks and balances that are crucial to the smooth running of government.

But Kenya’s experience is rather interesting. As the legislative of branch of Government, Parliament has not only failed to make good laws but also became increasingly paranoid in its operations. Evidently, the institution of Parliament is under siege because short memory, vengeance, greed and recklessness are increasingly overwhelming its members. Kenyans might have a reason in thinking that the reform agenda we wish to undertake shortly could be derailed by this unpredictable Parliament. Much of the business, which is now being conducted in the National Assembly, is likely to threaten our democratic values and our desired development.

When the Waki Report on post-election violence was released, MPs made fruitless attempts to dismiss it. This was despite the fact that the report had come up with useful findings and recommendations that would, if implemented, secure the country’s future. Although something is now being done about the report, it is obvious that if MPs had their way, no efforts would ever be made to address the post-election chaos.

The next issue over which Parliament performed sorrowfully concerns the payment of taxes. Recently, legislators refused to pass a law authorising the taxation of their allowances. Yet salaries for MPs and civil servants are raised from tax money. Given the country’s dehumanising poverty levels, we need every coin of tax money to improve the peoples’ living standards.

A few weeks ago, the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission (Kacc) went to court to petition two former and two current MPs to refund to the Exchequer money they had allegedly obtained through false claims. Information and Communication Minister Samuel Poghisio as well as Defence Assistant Minister David Musila were implicated. It is amazing that despite facing corruption charges, the two have chosen to remain in Government. On its part, Parliament has failed to demand the resignation of the affected ministers.

Soon after the Press featured Poghisio’s problems with Kacc, the Minister asked the House to enact the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2008. The Bill, which empowers the Minister for Internal Security to disable and dismantle broadcasting equipment , gives the Executive express powers to censor the flow of information to the public and to access private mail. Although this Bill was evidently outrageous and primitive, Parliament ignored public opinion and went ahead to pass it. The spectre of arrogance and intolerance, which has recently informed parliamentary proceedings, is unacceptable to the citizens of this republic.

There is little doubt that the media played a crucial role in Kenya’s struggle against colonial rule by educating the public about the unfair practices of the imperial regime. Without the input of the Press, the abuse of power witnessed under the Kenyatta and Moi administrations would have been worse. It is important to note that it has never been the objective of our national media to only highlight the negative things about our country. In addition to reporting our achievements, media has also helped most politicians to build their careers.

Axis of evil
In Parliament, the conservative spirit of retrogression is exemplified by a number of personalities. Around them, an axis of evil has been established to subvert democracy by undermining the country’s efforts to dispense with archaic political practices. Medical Services Assistant Minister Danson Mungatana epitomises parliamentary recklessness and improbity.

He has a high propensity for supporting wrong things. At the peak of election rigging last year, Mungatana stuck out his neck when he openly intimidated ECK officials into declaring Mwai Kibaki the winner of the polls. The Garsen MP has never responded to the fact that ECK Chairman Samuel Kivuitu, did not, himself, know the winner of the elections. Given that Mungatana’s party — Narc-Kenya — is currently campaigning to take power in 2012, the pain Kenyans would go through under regime, supposing the inevitable happens, can only be imagined.

Musila, the man who declared in Parliament he had no apologies to make for supporting the passing of the obnoxious Media Bill, has a history. He is a former Provincial Commissioner in the Moi administration. Besides the fact that Musila has no reform credentials, he was part of an intolerant system, which constricted Kenya’s democratic space in the 1980s and 1990s.

Press freedom

He knows how incompetent leaders benefit from an environment in which press freedom is emasculated. I am thus not surprised that the manifesto of ODM-Kenya, Musila’s party, has no clear provision for press freedom. The possibility of having an ODM-Kenya government in which Musila is a Minister for Information or Internal Security petrifies me.

Like Musila, Poghisio is not only a member of ODM-Kenya but also part of the clique threatening to engulf the entire Parliament. In line with his party manifesto, Poghisio does not believe in press freedom. With a burning ambition to become president, the Minister must be the real architect of the ODM-Kenya manifesto that has no space for media freedom. Hopefully, Kenyans will not make a mistake of assisting Poghisio to realise his dreams of heading a repressive regime.

Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta was furious that his boss Raila Odinga had undertaken to support press freedom in Parliament. The contributions of Uhuru confirmed the fears of most people that given his Kanu background, the man would never make a good president.

Although, Mungatana, Musila, Poghisio and Uhuru have been vocal in supporting bad legislation, there are many other MPs who are part of this conspiracy. Reactionary leadership in Parliament cuts across party lines. It is instructive to note that despite having a parliamentary majority, the ODM party was unable to put adequate members on the floor of the House to support Raila’s move to defend press freedom. This demonstrates that regardless of which parliamentary party one is looking at, Kenya’s National Assembly has very few reformers.

I have been persuaded several times that the only way we could effectively check abuse of power by the Executive is to embrace the parliamentary system of government. But given the current behaviour of Parliament, I am being tempted to revise my position.

Unless we tread carefully, we might embrace a parliamentary system that is more undemocratic, more dictatorial, more insensitive and more arrogant than the perennially despised presidential model. To restore public confidence in them, parliamentarians must change their ways. Merry Christmas!

Dr Kisiang’ani teaches History and Political Studies at Kenyatta University.