House Leadership Retreats to take stock and consider avenues for continuity of House Business amidst Covid-19 Pandemic
The Third Leadership Retreat for the National Assembly kicked off Tuesday morning at Ole Sereni Hotel , Nairobi with issues to do with the implementation of the Constitution whose promulgation hits the 10th anniversary this week, and the exploration of innovative avenues for continuity of House business, both in plenary and in Committees amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, taking the centre stage of the forum's deliberations.
The 2-day retreat which is aptly themed 'Safeguarding the Welfare of Society amidst the Pandemic's New Normal" is also reviewing the extent of implementation of the resolutions of the second leadership retreat which was held in April, 2019. It is the first such a forum since the recent changes in the House leadership and in Committees.
Addressing the forum when he made his keynote address, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Hon. Justin Muturi noted that the Covid-19 pandemic had presented the House with a moment that is in variance with the normal operations of the House, adding that this experience which cuts across Parliaments around the world, had not spared the operations of legislatures from distablization, thus challenging their long held Parliamentary traditions.
In many legislatures, rules of procedure demand physical presence for their assemblies, and for resolutions to be legal. Besides, most Parliaments have quorum rules.
Speaker Muturi however called on the Members to become innovative and to ensure that they play their privileged roles diligently to ensure business prosperity for Kenya, the pandemic notwithstanding.
"It is incumbent upon us as the House leadership to initiate and expedite ways to enable Parliament and Members to discharge their constitutional responsibilities without being exposed to Covid-19. This requires us to progressively realign the rules of procedure to the emerging realities posed by the pandemic. Investment in appropriate infrastructure is no longer an option, but an inevitable reality", the Speaker noted.
He thanked the Procedure and House Rules Committee for moving with speed to propose changes to the National Assembly Standing Orders to provide for virtual conduct of Parliamentary business. The Speaker was however quick to note that the pandemic had not suspended the Constitution and urged the Members to adhere to the requirements of the constitution on public participation, as well as allow the involvement of the media in House and Committee proceedings as envisaged under Article 118 (2) of the Constitution.
He also charged the committees’ leadership with a responsibility to rally parliamentarians in ensuring that funds channelled towards fighting the Pandemic are used responsibly and effectively, and that emergency measures are enforced without citizen rights being compromised. He provoked Committees to scrutinize regulations published by the Executive, challenge any of their weak assumptions, and exercise rigorous oversight over governmental actions.
“The need for oversight by the National Assembly is more pressing than ever before, in as much as COVID circumstances give need for special considerations”, he further observed.On his part, the Leader of the Majority Party, Hon. (Dr.) Amos Kimunya who was addressing the forum for the first time since he assumed this position, undertook to adopt an embracive and consultative leadership and get to bring everyone on board.
He promised to prioritise Private Members Bills even as the House grapples with the challenges presented by the few sitting sessions occasioned by the changes in operations forced upon Parliament by the pandemic. But this undertaking was not without a subtle caution, that this legislation must be aimed at improving the welfare of the people.
" However the arduous task of coming up with legislative proposals must not be taken for granted. Members must be assured of adequate support from Leadership offices, Chairpersons of Committees and staff of Parliament to ensure that they maintain their fervour in proposing legislation aimed at welfare of society", cautioned Hon. Kimunya.
Dr. Kimunya further delved into the the continued channeling of money bills from the Senate into the National Assembly contrary to the Constitution. He observed that though a huge section of such proposed legislation was driven by public interest, it stood to experience sudden demise once in the National Assembly, for offending clear provisions of the Constitution.
He called for the leadership of the two Houses to find ways in which they can manoeuvre the intricacies that come with the manner with which Article 109 (5) of the Constitution is couched so that in the end, both Houses can execute their legislative roles effectively. He proposed that forthwith, the two Houses could adopt co-sponsorship of bills, as it happens in the US Congress, a move that received support from Speaker Muturi and a number of Members.
The Leader of the Minority Party, Hon. John Mbadi called on Parliamentary Service Commission to enhance the strengthening of political parties by providing them space and facilities for the development of caucuses. He thanked the Speaker for approving the formation of Caucuses, adding that these forums had been providing the necessary platforms in mainstreaming public and global agenda.Hon. Mbadi however took issue with the Executive for targeting Members of Parliament for harassment.
" Of late, there has been cases where Members of Parliament have been targets of harassment by other forces outside the legislature. It is paramount for Members of Parliament to stand together and condemn such acts in the spirit of the Doctrine of Executive Cognisance", Hon. Mbadi submitted.
He further appealed to legislators to continuously oversight the Executive and to point out its failures while offering more innovative suggestions in order to better cater for the society. He warned that scrutiny of the Executive actions and spending must never be derailed by the pandemic as such lapse could open an avenue for misappropriation of public resources.
While lauding the Executive for the exemplary measures it has taken to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, he stressed that being a minority party or opposition in Parliament is not a ticket to be blind to incidences where the Executive deserves to be commended.While making his opening remarks, the Clerk of the National Assembly , Mr. Michael Sialai assured the Leadership that his office would continue to improve the facilities both in the chamber and in Committee rooms so as to be able to transact business both physically and virtually during the period of the pandemic.
Later in the afternoon, the participants held a robust debate in a bid to evaluate the role of the legislature on the two-thirds Constitutional issue of representation, as well as to chart the way forward on processing of legislative business emanating from the Constitutional Commissions and Independent Offices. The debate was informed by presentations from the Vice Chair, Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, Hon. Otiende Amollo and the Chairperson of the Committee on the Implementation of the Constitution, Hon. Jeremiah Kioni.
Both legislators acknowledged that the House had in five attempts been unable to enact a law with regard to the two-thirds gender principle, and observed that the country had to make conscious decisions on the way forward on this matter. They further underscored the need for the protection of the independence of Constitution Commissions and Independent Bodies, adding that their influence by the Executive especially with regard to their composition, had greatly compromised their independence.
Former Lawmaker and current Commissioner at the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, Hon. Amina Abdalla, called upon the chairs to be proactive and committed to the discharge of their duties as stipulated in the House Standing Orders. She had been invited to take Members through the Roles of Chairpersons of Parliamentary Committees.The Cabinet Secretary for National Treasury, Hon. Ukur Yatani is expected to address the forum tomorrow with regard to Treasury's plan to safeguard the economy of the Nation, ways sustaining National revenue while managing the national debt portfolio and the wage bill.