alexa Aukot has right diagnosis but wrong treatment - Daily Nation

Aukot has right diagnosis but wrong treatment

Sunday September 8 2019

Punguza Mizigo Bill

Thirdway Alliance party leader Ekuru Aukot sensitises Turkana County Assembly on the Punguza Mizigo Bill, on September 3, 2019. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

KWAME OWINO
By KWAME OWINO
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The Thirdway Alliance successfully marshalled more than the one million votes required to change the Constitution.

Subsequently, the party published a draft bill containing amendments for consideration.

The next phase of passing the bill in counties will be drawn out and remains unpredictable.

The certainty is that if the changes in the bill are to be enacted, it would change the character of Kenya’s Parliament and the platform for electoral politics too.

The party has properly assessed public disgust with the obnoxious demeanour of Parliament, waste of public resources and the noisy but unfruitful responses to corruption in the public sector.

For these reasons, the rationale informing the need for the constitutional amendments has public support.

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But they are not soundly considered and seem to be overly targeted at Parliament.

GRAFT CASES

If enacted, the Punguza Mizigo Bill would affect the speed of investigations and prosecution of accounting officers cited adversely by Auditor General reports or any public enquiry in Kenya.

It requires that offences of corruption and theft of public resources be tried within 30 days of being charged and any appeals be concluded in another 21 days.

Upon judgment, the convicted person would serve for life, with presidential pardon or amnesty forbidden.

Despite the fact that a rushed trial with poorly organised prosecution and investigation service would raise the probability of acquittals, this proposal resonates with the public sentiment.

Parliament would be altered beyond recognition by this Punguza Mizigo Bill.

For instance, a reduction in the size of Parliament by 65 per cent will save the country the amount spent on salaries paid to MPs.

The petition that informed the bill cites figures showing lower representation ratios for China, India and the United States, suggesting the existence of a golden rule for determining the appropriate number of legislators in every society.

WAGE BILL

While the Thirdway Alliance may be well-meaning, this argument is not a coherent one and is flatly wrong because no such rule exists.

It is undeniable that Kenyan legislators are generously compensated relative to their peers globally and in comparison to local income levels.

The Thirdway Alliance then lost its way by making correct diagnosis but a very basic prescription.

The fact that Kenyan parliamentarians are able to raise their own wages and other income is unconnected to their numbers.

Indeed, it is possible to cut the size of political representatives at the national level by 64 per cent as proposed and yet find that the spending on Parliament has not changed.

What the Thirdway Alliance didn’t get right is that Parliament’s ability to intimidate the Salaries and Remuneration Commission while getting a wink from the Treasury is the political economy problem and not their numbers alone.

The viciousness of Thirdway Alliance towards Parliament is further revealed by a proposal to place constitutional limits on Parliament’s share of all public spending to 0.35 per cent of the most recent audited accounts of revenue approved by the national assembly.

SPENDING

In the reckoning of the Thirdway Alliance, this would ensure capping monthly pay for all legislators at Sh500,000, with no allowances payable for any reason.

Managing expenses from its share would compel the Parliamentary Service Commission to spend no more than 20 per cent of all allocations on salaries and allowances of legislators.

These seem like reasonable attempts to use the authority of the Constitution to put Parliament in its place.

However, by adopting the common tactic of blaming Parliament due to the irascibility of its administrators and party leaders, the TWA misdirects its ammunition.

An analysis by the Institute of Economic Affairs for the years 2014 to 2018 shows that the executive branch of government not only spends nearly 35 times more money than Parliament but also that its total spending has been rising by a proportion higher than the rate of inflation and of overall spending.

From a political economy perspective, a party with saving money has to apply greater restraints on the executive foremost.

Even if Thirdway Alliance managed to restrain Parliament’s spending, it is highly probable that money would be saved but would just be appropriated by the executive branch.

WHOLISTIC APPROACH

A free lesson for the TWA is that you cannot create spending discipline in Kenya by attacking Parliament, which spends less than two per cent of all public resources, while leaving the executive branch to do as it pleases.

My view is that in the quest to show its disgust with excesses of Parliament, this bill also breaks the coherence of Parliament’s relationship to the Auditor General’s office. .

It does this by seeking to compel the Auditor General’s office to establish a forensic accounting department, ostensibly to provide direct reports to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution.

This would be an odd constitutional arrangement because there is no need to use the Constitution to determine internal administrative arrangements within the Auditor General’s office.

This result would weaken Parliament’s oversight on overall public spending.

Thirdway Alliance also correctly wishes to reform the National Government Constituency Development Fund (NG-CDF) policy by circumventing Parliament, thus ensuring resources are used at ward level.

The NG-CDF has been a key resource for patronage by members of the National Assembly and this reform would jolt many of them.

INCISIVE ANALYSIS

Taking the direct influence on project execution from legislators is the right thing to do as this dabbling in execution undermines the oversight role of Parliament. But Parliament will not let go easily.

Apart from changes in registration of voters and limitation of presidential term to a non-renewable seven years, the Bill would change Parliament and its roles a great deal.

Generally, Punguza Mzigo’s diagnosis of the problem is accurate but the tools chosen require more incisive analysis.

Even if it were to pass, the bill means a stronger executive branch at the expense of Parliament. I hope the trumpet sounders for the TWA are aware of what they have wrought.

The writer is CEO, Institute of Economic Affairs

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