By George Githinji
Before the last general elections that took place on 4th March 2013, the 10th parliament decided to lower the academic bar for political aspirants that were nominated to compete for the parliamentary and county assembly seats. These aspirants were the MPs, Senators, Women Representatives and Members of the County Assembly (MCAs).
Yet, the move to lower the academic qualifications for the legislative seats at both the national and the county government levels has had detrimental consequences, especially at the county level.
The Members of the County Assemblies have been reproached for being incapable of formulating formidable county legislation, or initiating debates and motions that can transcend legal scrutiny with absolute certainty.
They have also engaged in constant warfare with the County Executive Members. They have constantly held the CECs at ransom and even threatened them with impeachment if they refuse to yield to their (MCAs) demands. The result has been unrestricted and unmerited benefits for the MCAs in form of dubious foreign travel packages and sitting allowances that go beyond the legal limits set by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC). SRC sets and reviews salaries for public officers.
Parliament has also had a fair share of its own tribulations that are often about supremacy wars between both the National Assembly and the Senate. The National Assembly has constantly tried to edge out the Senate in the legislative process. This is contrary to the law that directs both houses of Parliament to conduct their business in mutual consultation and cooperation.
The National Assembly has also become a den of corruption and political shenanigans. This is depicted by corruption inside its own Public Accounts Committee (PAC) then chaired by Budalangi MP Ababu Namwamba and also when the ‘honorable’ members exchanged knuckles during the controversial passing of the security bill in December last year.
The Senate, instead of being the protector of counties, has concentrated its efforts on fighting the governors. It has also not effectively legislated to protect the counties or to create capacity for them, well beyond its usual role of allocating money to them.
Academic qualifications for the legislative members weigh heavily on the quality of their output. On oversight, Parliament and County Assemblies have become rubber stamps for the Executive and do not critically scrutinize policy issues generated by the Executive, in an attempt to please their respective governments.
Nonetheless, all this is bound to change if Parliament fully adopts and enacts proposals generated by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The electoral body has formulated proposals for all the prospective candidates for the forthcoming 2017 general elections to have a minimum qualification of a university degree. It also wants all MCAs to have achieved the same by the year 2022.
IEBC wrote to the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee of the National Assembly to consider those amendments to the electoral law. IEBC’s Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba maintains that the newly proposed amendments will ensure that the country gets “quality leadership” in the forthcoming 2017 general elections.
These proposals, once approved by Parliament, will kick-start the process of improving the quality of debates in parliament and the county assemblies. Professional bodies like Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK), which have previously lamented about the quality of legislation or debates conducted by MCAs and Parliament, had also made similar proposals to the government.
Therefore, Parliament, in its wisdom, should put aside its self-interests and approve these recommendations to ensure that all political aspirants have a minimum of a university degree. Having the degree will not determine whether the quality of debates and laws made by parliament and the county assemblies will automatically improve, but it will definitely ensure that these aspirants have the requisite knowledge, skills and experience to grasp and conduct the functions that come with those offices.
Writer comments on political issues in Kenya – blogs at Politics Kenya