For the first time in history all the top executive positions in Parliament will be filled in an election year.
This follows the scheduled retirement of the three most senior employees of Parliament, plus the Speaker whose term expires on January 15, 2013.
Clerk Patrick Gichohi, his deputy Peter C. Omollo and parliamentary studies and training director Murumba Werunga are leaving after cumulatively serving the House for more than nine decades together.
In fact, Mr Gichohi and Mr Omollo were employed two days apart in October 1977.
The last transition was in 2008 when Mr Gichohi took over from Mr Samuel Ndindiri who died in office. Mr Gichohi had been seconded to the Constituency Development Fund as the founding chief executive.
He is one of the longest serving employees of the august House, having joined after university.
Mr Omollo has been senior deputy clerk since 2008, while Mr Werunga joined the House on November 1, 1976.
The slots are among the 17 advertised by the Parliamentary Service Commission, the administrative wing of the House.
The commission will also appoint directors for legislative services, committees and the Speaker’s office.
It has set up a joint services unit, which will deal with issues cross-cutting between the Senate and the National Assembly.
This team will be headed by a director-general. The transition is even more comprehensive as Speaker Kenneth Marende may not be in office when the new bicameral Parliament is sworn in — unless he is re-elected.
The new Clerk and other top officers must be picked in the next two months to allow for a smooth transition. This is because MPs must vet the shortlisted candidates before they take office.
The Clerk, as per the Standing Orders, will swear in MPs, and then allow them to elect the Speaker. But there is a chance that the House may break before picking the new executive team, leaving the task to the next Parliament.
This raises the spectre of MPs-elect vetting candidates for Clerk as their first task or the tenure of Mr Gichohi’s team being extended.
Then there is the question of institutional memory. Mr Gichohi has worked for 33 years, but his successor will not necessarily come from the system.
With the departure of the two other veterans, and the fact the PSC will have to be constituted afresh, there are fears the succession as not well managed.
MPs who could not be named for fear of prejudicing the ongoing recruitment said the contracts of the three officers may be extended to ensure a smooth handing over.
“A new Clerk, fresh MPs, new senators and a bicameral Parliament at the same time? Who will guide the other? This is improbable,” said an MP who asked not be named.
But Mr Gichohi downplayed the fears on Wednesday, saying the Parliamentary Service Commission had put in place measures to ensure a smooth transition.
The opening of the 350-seat Parliament earlier this week, complete with hi-tech gadgets, is a first step towards ensuring that the Eleventh Parliament will conduct business in a modern chamber.
But that is just half the story. The House is in dire need of offices, a refurbished Senate building, and committee rooms fitted with cameras and microphones to allow for the live broadcasting of all proceedings.
“We need about 30 committee rooms. We currently have 15. The ultimate is to build an office block where each committee will have a room and an office for the chair,” said Mr Gichohi.
The cost of refurbishing Parliament’s Old Chambers to accommodate the Senate is Sh680 million.
“The tenders have already been awarded, [now that] the House has moved its sittings from the place, we expect the contractor to be on site soon,” Mr Gichohi said.
The House also needs 500 offices. One for each of the 418 MPs, chairmen of committees, PSC commissioners and staff of Parliament.
Currently, with 222 MPs, Parliament has 250 offices. The staff and MPs are housed in the main Parliament Buildings, County Hall, Continental House, and on seven of the 10 floors at Harambee Sacco Plaza, all in Nairobi. This space was inadequate and Parliament was forced to buy Protection House on Haile Selassie Avenue.
It is for this reason that Mr Adan Keynan, the vice-chairman of the PSC, asked President Kibaki and Finance minister Njeru Githae for money to buy Ukulima House and Harambee Sacco Plaza, just a stone-throw from Parliament Buildings.
Mr Gichohi said in the next Parliament only House leaders will be allocated offices at the main Parliament Building. Senior staff and MPs will be housed at Protection House, Harambee Plaza and Ukulima House.
“Those whose offices will remain here (Parliament Buildings) are the two Speakers, the majority and minority leaders, the whips of the two biggest political parties, the Deputy Speakers of both the Senate and the National Assembly, the two Clerks, the Legal Department and the Hansard department,” the Clerk said.
With the bulk of the work being done in committees, and MPs working Monday to Friday, they will need a bigger, well stocked and staffed library.
“The current library was built in 1952. It can only accommodate a maximum of 20 MPs at one-go. We’ll have 418 MPs, you can imagine if they all want library services at the same time… we really do have a lot on our plate if we have to deliver on the new Constitution,” said Mr Gichohi.
Then, there’s the issue of how and where the MPs will eat and drink, and park their vehicles.
The traffic within Parliament will also rise, because, inevitably, each of the MPs will come with a personal assistant, a secretary, a driver and a bodyguard. If you multiply that by 418 — with some bringing their hangers-on to the august House, it means that on a day when all MPs are present, there will be a minimum of 2,000 people.
With the daily visitors’ traffic pegged at 5,000 people, Parliament Road will be the new Mombasa Road, jam-wise.
Mr Gichohi said Parliament was negotiating with the Kenyatta International Conference Centre for office and parking space.
“As per the design, the new office building will have four levels of parking space. There will be committee rooms fitted with equipment for live broadcasts and space for the secretariat,” he added.
MPs may also be forced to share staff to cut costs and enhance efficiency.
“If there’s an increase in the number of staff, it has to be very gradual. We have to maximise on the skills that we have. We have done a staff audit and we know the skills that we have and what we need. We will hire as need arises…we’ll have to adopt a very collaborative approach, so that when you require an expert, say, a professor to assist the committee of energy, you just hire for that period.”
The other option will be to turn to technology.
“What makes us comfortable (in the quest for a paperless and digital Parliament) is that more and more MPs are getting Ipads and laptops and becoming tech-savvy. You saw the Prime Minister, for instance, using an Ipad in the House, while answering questions. If the PM of the Republic of Kenya can do that, why not an MP?” asked Mr Gichohi.
“Even with the new digital system that we’re using in the House, it took the President (who’s been in Parliament for 50 years), two minutes to learn how to operate it. It should not be difficult,” the Clerk said.
The bigger issue though will be in training MPs and parties on the new system. Unlike the current Parliament where half the members are also in the Executive, all the 418 will mainly deal with legislation, oversight and representation of their constituents.
“The moment a political party nominates a member to a committee, it will be very difficult to de-whip them. They therefore have to do that very carefully, and that’s why the induction is important,” added the Clerk.
They will be trained at the Kenya School of Law, the Kenya Institute of Administration and the Kenya School of Monetary Studies within the first three weeks of the next Parliament.