President William Ruto officially opened the 13th Parliament on Thursday, 29th September 2022 marking his first address of a joint sitting of Parliament. His speech was filled with a lot of promise and goodwill to guarantee the independence of the other two arms of government, the Judiciary and Legislature.
President Ruto has started on the right footing with the former with the swearing in of six judges that were recommended for appointment to the Court of Appeal and Environment and Land Court by the Judicial Service Commission soon after he took the reins of power. Additionally, he committed to seek more resources to strengthen and increase the capacity of the judiciary to expeditiously conclude graft cases, commercial disputes and other matters. If implemented, this would be a great in the fight against corruption where cases have dragged out for very long periods delaying justice to the aggrieved, who in most cases are the citizens.
To be successful, the war on corruption would also rely on an equally effective legislature that is constitutionally mandated to oversight both national and county governments and government institutions and agencies. At the conclusion of its term, the 12th Parliament came under a lot of heat as having underperformed in its oversight role. It was accused of rubberstamping the executive’s proposals and appointments without so much as raising questions on pertinent issues.
However, the President called on a strong 13th Parliament that would hold his administration accountable. To this effect he called on Parliament to consider amendments to the Standing Orders to facilitate Cabinet Secretaries to articulate the government agenda, explain policy and answer questions on the floor of the House. This would be a departure from the current framework that only allows for summoning of cabinet secretaries by Parliamentary committees on inquiries and is reminiscent of the Pre-2013 Parliaments where ministers would sit in the Parliament chambers.
In the 12th Parliament, Committees faced an extremely hard time with CSs who would snub summons sometimes even forcing them to impose sanctions in order for them to appear before the legislators. This proved extremely difficult especially where ministries had gone ahead to gazette and effect orders or regulations without the involvement or approval of Parliament. Whether or not this proposal by President Ruto is implemented, Parliament ought to assert its oversight authority in a bid to ensure that the Executive does not bulldoze its way through some very critical things.
Having appointed a number of current and former members of Parliament to the cabinet, many are of the hope that they would work to create a harmonious relationship between Parliament and the cabinet unlike their predecessors.
To strengthen the Senate’s oversight role, the President called on the two Houses of Parliament to set up a Senate oversight fund. In his view, this would enable the Senate to oversight the 47 county governments that have equally been marred with corruption since establishment in 2013. This would mean that Senators, in their respective committees would be able to visit specific counties to investigate any arising issues.
The question begs, however, if this would yield any tangible results. The Senate, through ad-hoc committees, has previously embarked on specific inquiries that were unfortunately inconclusive, case in point the Managed Medical Equipment Services (MES). Despite the ad-hoc committee conducting investigations for over a year, at an extra cost to the taxpayer, the report did not outrightly name any suspects or clearly give recommendations to inform the next course of action. This isn’t an isolated case.
Having the goodwill of the Executive and the powers vested in it through the Constitution, will the 13th Parliament make good use of all these conducive conditions to effectively deliver on its mandate? Over to you legislators.
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