A proposal by the government to sell loss-making state-owned companies without the approval of Parliament is causing jitters and doubts on new administration's commitment to transparency and accountability.
This move, among other things undermines the essential function, reputation, and significance of Parliament as the constitutionally sanctioned assembly of the people's representatives.
The proposed Privatization Bill 2023, which is a revision of the Privatization Bill 2005, not only eliminates Parliament's oversight responsibilities in matters concerning the sale and nationalization of State corporations, but also has the potential to conceal the day-to-day operations of these entities under the umbrella of executive powers and privileges, in the long run, this could be a disregard for transparency and the public interest.
One of the concerns with the sale of public assets without proper oversight is the possibility of creation of loopholes for corruption. If considered and passed by Parliament as is, the proposal will allow the executive to sell off parastatals without the proper checks and balances in place, opening up avenues for individuals within the government to engage in corrupt practices. This might lead to the sale of assets with intent of benefiting a select few.
Public assets are typically managed with the public interest in mind, and the sale of these assets can result in them falling under the control of private entities that are out to profiteer, as there are already fears and rumors, that the new Bill is being pushed by some honchos in high places intent on buying out and owning some of the State firms. This could derail essential services offered by these corporations to the public or increased costs for consumers.
In times like these, it is vital for Kenyans to loudly and clearly voice their opinions to defend Article 95 (2) of the 2010 Constitution, which grants the elected representatives of mwananchi in Parliament, the responsibility of making decisions and determining issues such as the disposal of public property.
The Bill has come under sharp criticism, with public participation in some parts of the country disrupted with citizens citing an unsatisfactory explanation of how the same will impact their social and economic lives. The Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) for instance has opposed the move to privatize universities, claiming that the privatization of the universities is a scheme by some high-powered individuals and politicians to amass wealth as they will emerge as the highest bidders.
It is an undeniable fact that offloading these stagnant companies might be necessary to ease the burden on taxpayers who currently sustain them. Nevertheless, the importance of Parliament’s oversight mandate cannot be understated in such instances. Our country’s history with daylight graft does not leave room for us to let the Executive operate as it pleases without scrutiny.
Parliament is the representative of the people and should, therefore, diligently undertake its oversight of the privatization process of public resources. Checks and balances are put in place because of the issue of abuse that continues to riddle Kenya.
The removal of the parliamentary approval stage in the privatization of these assets essentially robs Kenyans of their right to have a say in government decisions as is provided for in Article 118 (1) of the Constitution.
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