The Clerk of the National Assembly Justin Bundi has issued an ultimatum to journalists to vacate Parliament's media centre.
The Clerk has also ordered that journalists will be “invited” to Parliament as and when they are needed. He said the media centre will host parliamentary committees.
“We’re not creating residence for journalists in Parliament,” said Mr Bundi, shortly after he issued the ultimatum. The implication is that the parliamentary orderlies have the power to eject journalists from the media centre anytime a committee decides to meet in the venue.
“We have a shortage of committee rooms and we will use as much space as possible,” said Mr Bundi.
The Clerk did not provide an alternative accommodation for the journalists who will now have to work from the press gallery, which aside from being squeezed, lacks power outlets for journalists to plug in their laptops and electronic equipment to file stories.
The order comes just a fortnight after the Leader of Majority Party in the National Assembly Aden Duale warned that the media will be taught a lesson, over the coverage of MPs' pay controversy.
A room where journalists used to file their stories, just next to Parliament’s debating chambers was demolished during the multibillion refurbishment of the debating chamber, and when the House was re-opened, the parliamentary journalists were asked to use the media centre-built with money from the American government-- as their operating base.
With the renovation of the Old Chamber to create room for the Senate still ongoing, and the building of the multibillion-shilling office block yet to begin, journalists will stay out for a long time, if the Clerk’s directive for the media centre to be converted into committee rooms is implemented.
“Let us see how we manage the process as we move on,” said Mr Bundi.
The Kenya Parliamentary Journalists Association issued a statement and appealed to the leadership of Parliament to reconsider the stand.
“We know, in an expanded democracy, there will definitely be consequences and space constraints is one of them, but at a time when State House is thinking of allowing journalists on its hitherto hallowed grounds, the least the National Assembly can do is to convert the media centre into a committee room and tell journalists that they will be allowed into Parliament “by invitation.”,” read the KPJA dispatch.
The journalists’ body said that while it was aware that there were constraints of space in Parliament, the media centre was a donation to Parliament from the US government, for exclusive use by journalists and MPs’ in order to improve the coverage of the House and let Kenyans know what their leaders were up to.
"It must be recalled that it took a long time and persistent effort for the House to let journalists have a place within Parliament for them to file stories for their media houses. Let’s not roll that back under the so-called digital regime,” KPJA said.
At the meeting of the Budget Committee with the Parliamentary Service Commission on Tuesday, MPs complained about the lack of offices, which has forced some to operate from hotel rooms and cars.
Budget Committee vice chair Mary Emaase said Parliament’s public relations department is also sleeping on the job and said there was an apparent lack of preparedness for the increased number of legislators.
“Some of us have replaced handbags. We carry very huge handbags,” she lamented. She said MPs have had to work from their cars and the lounge at Parliament Buildings.
Silverse Anami (Shinyalu, ODM) said he identified office space outside Parliament but then the team from Parliament that was to inspect it didn’t show up.
“It’s not interesting how we operate,” he said. “This issue needs to be addressed squarely.”
A provision by the PSC of a Sh50,000 allowance for any MP who finds an alternative office has also not worked as only two members have secured private offices.
Most complain that the amount is not enough to rent office space in the neighbourhood of Parliament.
Senate Clerk Jeremiah Nyegenye said the central government has offered Parliament office space at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre and ministries previously hosted there ordered to vacate it.
Parliament will occupy all but three floors and the conference facilities at the landmark building in the centre of the capital, which will also be modified as necessary to host MPs’ offices.