This past week, there has been drama in the Senate around the attempted impeachment of Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru. Allegations against the county chief ranged from abuse of office to denying residents their right to health.
Despite the debate being particularly boisterous and agitated, the motion in the assembly passed with little opposition. The Senate, on the other hand, voted to have the matter handled by a committee whose report would determine the governor’s fate.
During the committee hearings, it was plain that there was a very poor working relationship between the governor and the county legislature, as well as with workers in the county. It was clear that the governor is viewed as an arrogant dictator who does not take or seek the counsel of professionals her government has hired.
Indeed, the Senate team concurred that the county procurement system stank, and went ahead to recommend that the responsible officials be investigated and prosecuted for failings identified during the hearings. Ultimately, though, the committee voted to dismiss the charges against the governor while requesting the county senator to mediate between the executive and the assembly.
Since 2010, Kenya is governed under a devolved system of governance that splits legislative and executive authority between the national and county levels. At the county level, members of the county assembly are elected to represent their people in policy and governance forums, to write laws that govern the relationship between the county government and the people, and to oversee the executive to ensure that the interests of the people are always at the top of every executive action.
In the oversight role, the county assembly has powers to vote to oust any county official they feel has flagrantly broken the law or behaved in a manner that flouts their constitutional responsibilities. It is unfortunate, in my view, that this power is then fettered by having the Senate review the county assembly decision.
It would have been ideal to let the county assembly be the final decision-maker on whether a governor or any other county official should continue serving or not. It is conceivable that the law giving the Senate oversight over county assembly decisions might have been intended to check potential excesses borne of pettiness or some values that go against the national values espoused in the Constitution.
However, this responsibility ought to lie with the Judiciary, which is given the power to interpret the Constitution and the law, and to adjudicate conflicts such as may arise between the executive and the legislative branches of government.
Recognising this unfortunate contradiction, all Senate impeachment proceedings should begin with a mind to affirm the county assembly decision. The impeachment law must be written to contain all the guidance and safeguards needed to ensure that a county assembly makes a sensible decision, and once a decision is made in line with such a law, the Senate must always strive to uphold it.
The current situation is untenable as it amounts to interfering with the rights of the people to determine their own destiny, thus empowering governors to ride roughshod over the people’s representatives.
Lukoye Atwoli is an associate professor of psychiatry at Moi University’s School of Medicine; [email protected]