MPs made a slow start to a new era in Parliament on Tuesday, with some struggling to master the basics of debating in a digital chamber.
There was no trade mark shouting of “point-of-order” to signal a breach in procedure, or rising to “catch the Speaker’s eye”.
Members were required to press computerised buttons to raise questions, interrupt debate or catch the eye of House Speaker Kenneth Marende.
There was an uneasy silence as the lawmakers grappled with technology on the first day of business in the refurbished chambers.
Others furtively tested the new system, but only ended up jamming the network. This validated claims by the House Broadcasting Committee chairman Mr Nicholas Gumbo (Rarieda) that some MPs were technophobic, and may find it difficult to adopt to the new era.
“While it will not be a requirement to turn all MPs into IT whizkids, members will necessarily have to improve their ICT skills to use the new facilities,” said Mr Gumbo.
Even with the technology, the Speaker had a hard time controlling debate, because curious MPs clogged up the system by continuously pressing the buttons.
They ignored Mr Marende’s plea to “just press the button once”.
“Minister, you are making my life very difficult,” the Speaker told the acting Internal Security Minister, Mr Yusuf Haji.
At one point, Immigration minister Otieno Kajwang said it was better if Parliament went “manual”, arguing that the process of getting the Speaker’s attention was a bit too complicated.
There were technicians roaming the floor to help MPs use the new system. It was the first time that non-uniformed people were in the debating chamber while the House was in session.
President Kibaki was the only MP in the House who was around when the 158-seater Parliament was built and inaugurated in November 1965.
Then, it cost £100,000 (Sh2 million), which, following inflationary pressure, the Speaker said, would be Sh2 billion today.
This time, President Kibaki returned to the House to preside over the opening of the Sh958-million chambers.
All MPs have smart cards, with the details of their name and their constituency. Once the card is placed on the slot in the console, the MP has to enter his personal identification number to take part in the proceedings.
If they want to speak, they press a button, which then alerts the Speaker to activate their microphone. The first to place the request tops the queue — first come, first served.
The President, with the help of National Assembly Clerk, Mr Patrick Gichohi, tried out the new system and his first words on the microphone were “Asante sana Bwana Speaker” (thank you very much Mr Speaker), followed by a very wide grin, and hearty laugh.
A fresh start
The President asked MPs to speed up pending Bills, some of which must be passed by August 27.
“Let’s use the time left (before the next elections) to entrench reforms and put in place structures that future leaders will use to transform Kenya into a haven of prosperity as envisioned in our national roadmap, the Vision 2030,” said the President.
The Leadership and Integrity Bill, Assumption of the Office of the President Bill, the National Intelligence Service Bill and the Kenya Defence Forces Bill are awaited in Parliament.
The President promised to ensure a smooth transition and lauded “taxpayers” for funding the facelift.
“I will guarantee a smooth transition to the leadership that Kenyans will vote for in the next elections,” he said.
He said the government will allocate more money to Parliament to acquire enough space for an estimated 418 MPs and over 1,000 new staff after the elections.
Parliament has identified Harambee Sacco Plaza and Wakulima Sacco for acquisition as it awaits to build an office-block behind County Hall.
It has already bought Protection House.
“I urge you to seek re-elections because the next Parliament will be an important pillar of good governance. Despite the new constitution and devolution of responsibilities to the 47 counties, the role of Parliament will not be diminished. The status and place of Parliament will remain paramount,” President Kibaki said.