The National Assembly resumed its plenary sittings on Tuesday 25th January 2022 marking the beginning of the last session of the 12th Parliament. The sittings were however adjourned indefinitely following the house’s rejection of a list of member nominees proposed by the Majority Leader Amos Kimunya to the House Business Committee. Speaker Justin Muturi informed the House that in the absence of a House Business Committee, house business cannot be transacted unless the House leadership wrote to the Speaker requesting that the decision be reversed based on Standing Order No. 49.
The Majority and Minority leader have since written to the speaker seeking to introduce a motion on the approval of nominees for appointment to the committee. If approved, the National Assembly and their sister house, the Senate, have full plate of activities to consider before their term comes to an end.
Top of the list is budget-related business. This comes at a time when public debt is at an all-time high and when Kenyans are reeling from the high cost of living. As it stands the 12th Parliament’s legacy is one that will be remembered for having voted to expand the public debt ceiling to Ksh 9 trillion. According to the Central Bank of Kenya website, Kenya’s public debt stood at Ksh 7.7 trillion as of June 2021. Parliament has a critical task ahead to not only ensure that a sound budget is passed by the House but that critical institutions in the electoral process are well funded given the sensitivity of the process in the country.
The 12th House must speed up its consideration of key pending bills that are meant to provide solutions to long standing social issues. Key among them is the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2020 that addresses issues of accessibility of mental health services including care and treatment of persons with mental illnesses at both national and county levels. This comes at a time that the National Police Service Commission revealed that 12,000 police officers suffer from mental illnesses. The statistics of mental illnesses are even higher among the populace higher signaling the urgent need for a robust law to be in place to provide support through affordable mental health support.
During Speaker Muturi’s communication to the House, he informed members about the lapsing of 28 Bills that were not concluded in the 5th session. Among them were the Public Participation Bills that would have provided for a clear framework of citizen’s participation in policymaking. This is particularly saddening when the general feeling of the public is that Parliament prioritizes Bills that only serve the members’ individual or party interests and not the citizen they represent. It is a lost opportunity for the 12th House to have ensured that their work is centered around citizen’s priority interest areas.
When we sought views from our SMS users on what they’d wish for Parliament to prioritize in this last session, majority expressed the need for Parliament to put in more effort to fight corruption. A number of high-profile graft inquiries are currently sitting in the house committees and the question is whether Parliament will bring them to a logical conclusion before the end of their term. A big and recent one is the KEMSA scandal that saw taxpayers lose Ksh 7.8 billion in the middle of a global pandemic that has since claimed over 5,000 lives. Will the fate of this scandal be similar to the Ksh 63 billion Managed Equipment Services (MES) scandal that is yet to yield even a single arrest? The hope is that Parliament will rise to the occasion to deliver justice to taxpayers but more importantly families that lost their loved ones as a result of this theft.
As the country gets fully immersed in the election buzz, Parliament is being urged to not abdicate their role. After all, Parliament’s institutional performance and individual members’ legacy will be one that citizens can and will use to hold their leaders to account when the country goes to vote on 9th August 2022. Parliament should, therefore, not drop the ball.
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