New Standing Orders haunt the Executive - Daily Nation

New Standing Orders haunt the Executive

Saturday September 12 2009

Supremacy battles between the Executive and the Legislative arms played up yet again in Parliament last Thursday.

Speaker Kenneth Marende once again asserted the supremacy of Parliament when he allowed debate on a report by two committees of Parliament on the re-appointment of Justice Aaron Ringera as the director of the anti-graft body.

This was the second landmark ruling by the Speaker in six months. The first ruling involved who, between the President and the Prime Minister, should pick the Leader of Government Business in Parliament.

In the first case, the Speaker had received two nominations from the two principals in the Grand Coalition Government to be the Leader of Government Business. President Kibaki had nominated Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka to the position while Prime Minister Raila Odinga staked claim on the same post.

Two principals

The onus of deciding who was the rightful owner of the position fell on the lap of the Speaker who ruled that he would hold the position temporarily as the two principals conferred. The two are yet to communicate to Mr Marende on their decision.

Last Thursday, Mr Marende faced yet another test when he had to rule on whether Parliament could debate a matter which was already before court without prejudicing its outcome.

And in his eight-page communication, the Speaker asserted Parliament’s independence when he allowed the House to debate the report prepared by two departmental committees – that of Delegated Legislation and the one on Administration of Justice.

In an interview with the Sunday Nation, the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mr Patrick Gichohi, defended the Speaker’s position saying he was living up to his oath of office – to spearhead reforms.

Standing Orders

Mr Gichohi downplayed the implications of Mr Marende’s rulings together with the new Standing Orders developed with the help of the United States Agency for International Development (USAid). “Parliament has just played its role by observing its procedures and Standing Orders,” Mr Gichohi said.

Among the key things contained in the new Standing Orders that became operational last March is the creation of the Budget Office, 27 committees, legal department and allowing the public to file petitions on any issue under consideration by Parliament.

The Clerk asked the public to view Parliament in the light of the new procedures and Standing Orders that put Kenya at par with progressive parliaments in the Commonwealth.

“The new 27 committees created by the Standing Orders make Parliament more relevant and address challenges in our society,” the Clerk added.

Through the Fiscal Committee, the budget process, making and scrutiny has been opened up to the public. “In the current Budget, all the 40 votes will be subjected to scrutiny by committees,” Mr Gichohi said noting that the guillotine system where ministries that had not been scrutinised by Parliament are lumped together and passed en-masse had been done away with.

This is the committee that spotted the Sh35 million allocation to spruce up the private home of the Prime Minister to create room for hosting delegations and visiting dignitaries. It struck off the expenditure.

The Budget Office is staffed with professionals who have expertise in financial issues to analyse the Budget for MPs. They include accountants, statisticians and researchers.

Mr Gichohi envisages a much more robust Parliament in the next five years and through the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) has developed a 10-year strategic plan, 2008-2018.

“Most work will be done through committees in the future instead of the plenary,” the Clerk told the Sunday Nation.

To assist MPs meet this demand, the legal department was set up with eight draft persons to generate private members Bills. And in the last three months, at least eight Bills have been generated including the one by Mr Ephraim Maina aimed at re-introducing price controls.

But while the Clerk downplays the obvious supremacy battles between the Executive and the Legislative arms, the Standing Orders now give power to MPs to summon Parliament as long as they can muster a majority and specify the business to be transacted.