News 2008


Kenya parliament will reopen with busy agenda

Dennis Itumbi, AfricaNews reporter in Nairobi, Kenya

05. March 2008

Radical bills, innovative ideas, life changing laws and comic relief amendments on the constitution will be the highlights of the first session of the 10th Parliament that opens its gates to business starting Thursday morning .

Interviews with newcomer legislators, Non-governmental Organizations and the Speaker of the National Assembly point to a Parliament that is determined to enact the highest number of laws than ever before.

Top on the cards will be the enactment of the National Peace accord and a constitutional bill that will entrench the peace deal between President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga into the constitution.

For the first time, Parliament may shelf the traditional week long debate into the Presidential speech and instead concentrate its efforts in operationalizing the deal.

Other major plans is like the one led by government deputy chief whip Johnston Muthama to sponsor an amendment through a Miscellaneous Amendment bill that will see the current hefty salaries and allowances paid to legislators significantly reduced.

The Muthama Amendment will also see the establishment of a Parliamentary Salaries Council to run as an independent body under the Parliamentary Public Commission.

The body according to the proposed amendment will govern the remuneration of legislators; establish an independent body to control and research on the pay to MPs and “to always ensure equity and harmonization with the rest of the country.”

The amendment also seeks to strip MPs of the power to increase their own salaries in future.

“If passed the bill will be a welcome break from past parliaments whose first duty has always been to increase their salary package,” Muthama explained.

Muthama, who is a billionaire gemstone dealer, says that he was motivated to sponsor the amendment, “after reviewing the amount of money paid to MPs compared to the meager earnings their constituents were taking home.”

The bill also seeks to have two researchers – one from an economic and the other from a political background attached to every legislator for the purposes of “credible and purposeful bills in the house and also to create employment.”

Significantly, the bill proposes that the allowances and pay of legislators be taxed like incomes of all other Kenyans.

“We should not create a group of elite Kenyans who do not pay taxes, people must contribute to the well being of the nation,” said Muthama in our brief interview.

The amendment has a plan B in the event legislators conspire to squeeze it out of the legislative agenda; Muthama says he was willing to inject a clause that ties its operational date from the start of the next Parliament.

Along the same lines a newcomer legislator from Western Kenya who pleaded for anonymity in this report since he wants to “spring the surprise at the right time” wants the State House act changed so as to demystify the Presidency.

The MP, who comes into Parliament straight from activism, despite being a lawyer by profession says that State House should be treated as a public office, “and not a one man operational base.”

“Members of the public who want to access the President should be able to get to him and have a chat, we need to make State House the seat of the public after all they pay taxes to maintain it, it is not a prison it is a public office,” explained the legislator.

Asked why the members of the public should not use the Harambee House office, he insisted, “The President rarely uses that office, we need to force a few changes.”

The form of the private member motion had not taken place so we could not get into details of the proposed changes.

Though the current parliament is likely to start its agenda, by endorsing legal changes proposed by the Kofi Annan led mediation team, the government and individual parliamentarians have a long list of reforms they want to institute.

The government plans to re-introduce the Local Authorities Bill, which seeks to provide for the creation of a Metropolitan city of Nairobi and to create necessary legal Framework that will formalize the elevation of Kisumu and Mombasa to City Status.

The bill also seeks to create for the provision of direct election of mayors and their deputies. Further a new clause in the bill also seeks to separate Civic elections from the Parliamentary and Presidential one.

If passed, more autonomy on the local government will be granted.

The government also seeks Bill for establishment financial management and control boards for councils experiencing financial distress.

The Government team led by Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka who is the official Leader of Government business and deputized by Justice and Constitutional Affairs Martha Karua also plans to present a sessional Paper on the ever elusive Kenya Foreign policy, which will provide crucial impetus on the advancement of Kenya’s economic and social interests.

The rest of the State agenda include; revival of the proceeds of crime and money laundering Bill, that has always received support from western countries and equal opposition from individuals within the NGO sector and parliamentarians.

The government is also preparing to introduce a sessional paper to increase land under irrigation from 110,000 hectares to 530,000.

The National Policy Guidelines on ICT that were approved by cabinet three years ago but have never been discussed by Parliament will be the other crucial legislation by the State together with passing the Kenya Information and Communication Bill.

The youth and women agenda will be handled through Sessional Papers on Gender Equality and development and the National Youth policy.

The National Social Health Insurance Fund bill 2004 may see a comeback in parliament. The highly controversial bill was a subject of heated debate during the 2007 campaigns with the opposition saying they would table it as to priority and the government arguing it was already before parliament in the amended version and they would vote it into law once re-elected.

A revised Statistics Bill that will provide for the establishment of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) as a body corporate and Principal agency for collecting, analyzing, publishing and disseminating official statistics in Kenya is also expected before the house.

The Kenya Law Reform Commission bill – seeks to give Kenya law Reform operational autonomy, to make it more effective and to redefine its objectives, functions and composition.

The Companies Bill – the bill will provide a modern framework for conducting business.

Review of the following labour laws - regulation of wages (Cap 22a), factories and other places of work (cap 514), Workmen’s compesation act (Cap 236), Employment Act (Cap 226), Trade Disputes act (Cap 234), Trade Unions Act (Cap 233).

The Industrial Act (Cap 237 Amendment bill is still at the AG’s chamber will be finalized in order to empower the Directorate of Industrial Training (DIT), with the legal framework to provide cutting edge training to both school leavers as well as workers employed in Industry.

Kenya Maritime Authority 2005 and Kenya Merchant Shipping bill that will lead to establishment of open ships registry in Kenya and thereby increase the mandate of the Kenya Ports Authority will also be introduced for discussion in the house.

Whereas past parliaments have had time to swim and long holidays, the current house will have little time for sleep and with a revision of standing orders on the card, they may be forced to sit for longer hours and more days if the ambition of new legislators and the government is anything to go by.