Tuesday, April 28, 2009



By Standard Team

The Speaker of the National Assembly holds the hopes of a nation this afternoon (Tuesday), when he rules over the Constitution and leadership of the House Business Committee.

Mr Kenneth Marende will have to offer a way forward out of the impasse between coalition rivals PNU and ODM. Its leaders, President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, have sharply disagreed over who should lead Government business in the House.

Today’s ruling comes against the backdrop of the Speaker’s failed overtures to the two principals to resolve the stalemate through dialogue, and as ODM continued to beat the election drums.

Yesterday, ODM was consulting with lawyers over their next move, following Raila’s Sunday demand that fresh elections be held if PNU continues to frustrate it in Government. PNU had accused the PM of plotting a ‘civilian coup’ after totally failing in his premiership duties.

ODM said the fresh elections should be held in six-months, as a clutch of Cabinet ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, backed the President’s choice of ODM-Kenya leader Kalonzo Musyoka, who is also the Vice-President, to assume the mantle of leading the Government in the House.

Raila and his Orange party have maintained that the PM should automatically take the leadership because his party has the majority MPs.

Last night, it was clear that today would be a critical day in the life of the fledgling coalition that stares a premature death in the face.

Even as many Kenyans invested hope in Marende, a group of 50 MPs began an initiative to break the stalemate. They proposed to have the House Business Committee constituted and a member elected interim chairman.

The caucus of MPs from across the political divide, and which included Assistant ministers, allowed ODM to nominate 11 members to the HBC, against PNU’s 11.

The MPs, emerging from a two-hour marathon consultative meeting at Parliament Buildings, said Parliament would adopt the lists as presented by both ODM and PNU.

"We have resolved to adopt the lists as they will be presented by the respective parties to the House tomorrow (today)," Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto, who spoke for the group, said.

"We decided ODM takes one more seat in the committee courtesy of its numerical strength in the House," said an MP who attended the meeting.

Assistant ministers Kilemi Mwiria and Richard Onyonka said once Parliament adopts the list, HBC members would be expected to meet and elect an interim chairman.

"If they fail to agree on modalities and who should be the committee’s chairman, then we will call upon the entire House to intervene once again and elect a chairman — but after the Standing Orders are amended," said Onyonka.

Efforts to bring the MPs together was mooted early in the day by Assistant minister Cecily Mbarire and Onyonka, who argued that allowing parliamentary parties to take positions was likely to aggravate the situation.

Agenda in abeyance

Yet as the politicians continue to wrangle, crucial House agenda is in abeyance. Sources said ODM was readying its superior majority in the House to frustrate Government business if it did not have its way today.

Already, the Government needs urgent release of Sh26 billion from the Consolidated Fund as part of the Supplementary Budget needed to run its activities.

Traditionally, the Supplementary Budget has been passed in March, three months to the close of the financial year. And with thousands of Kenyans facing starvation, the urgency with which Sh8.5 billion is required cannot be over-emphasized.

ODM has 105 elected and nominated MPs, excluding the ones from affiliate parties, against PNU’s 45, excluding its affiliates. And with effective horse-trading, ODM can frustrate any Government plans in the House.

The country badly needs a new electoral body following disbandment of the discredited Electoral Commission of Kenya last December.

Already, the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Review has come up with the names of nine commissioners who are awaiting Parliament’s nod.

With a pending by-election in Bomachoge following the declaration of Mr Joel Onyancha’s election as null and void by the High Court, the electoral body is a necessity.

ODM’s call for fresh elections in six months is also an indicator that an electoral body must be urgently put in place.

And hopes for a new Constitution before the next polls could soon be a mirage.

Though the nine-member committee of experts have already started working, there is need for Parliament to amend the Constitution of Kenya (Review) Act to include the civil society in the process.

Former Justice Minister Martha Karua had indicated before her resignation that a proposal to amend the Act to include 30 members from the civil society as the reference group was on the cards, and Parliament’s approval would be required.

Most importantly, Parliament would be required to approve the budget for 2009/10 financial year in June, and ODM’s support would be crucial.

The HBC is a potent committee that defines the agenda of the House. It has been widely a preserve of Cabinet ministers but the new Standing Orders give back-benchers at least 30 per cent stake in the body.

Some back-benchers are, however, clamouring for 50 per cent stake to neutralize Government control of the powerful House organ.

It is understood that five ODM lawyers, including Mr Mugambi Imanyara, who met at the Prime Minister’s office yesterday morning, explored ways in which the party’s position on new polls could be sustained and be implemented.

Earlier, the PM had met Higher Education Minister Sally Kosgei on undisclosed discussions.

Later in the evening, the lawyers converged again at the Treasury at a meeting convened by the PM, where they met Immigration Minister Otieno Kajwang’, his Lands counterpart James Orengo and East African Community Minister Amason Kingi.

Elsewhere, party Chairman Henry Kosgey justified the demand for fresh calls in six months to enable the country "to get the required stability and in order for it to attract investment and create jobs".

No contest

During a Press conference at Orange House, Kosgey reiterated the party’s demand for Raila to become the leader of Government business in the House, adding: "This is not a contest between (Raila) and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka. The contest ended in 2007, and we know who won. This is a demand based on logic, common sense and fair play".

Reacting to reports from PNU that Raila was an appointee of President Kibaki, Kosgey said: "The PM is an appointee of the people of Kenya. He is not PM because President Kibaki likes him but because he comes from the party with the numbers in the House".

The Constitution says the leader of the party with majority members in Parliament shall become Prime Minister.

Karachuonyo MP James Rege said the party would not renege this time round nor climb down from their position. "We have reached the extreme end and we shall not cede on our position".

He said, according to the accord, the party was right to claim the position of Leader of Government Business in the House because the PM "executes the function and affairs of the Government of Kenya".

Fisheries Minister Paul Otuoma said the party’s position was very clear, and ceding ground would "be detrimental (to the party), especially from our supporters."

MPs Rachael Shebesh, Elizabeth Ongoro, Yusuf Chanzu, Otieno Mbadi and ODM Whip Jakoyo Midiwo flanked Kosgey.