President Uhuru Kenyatta signs the 2014 Value Added Tax (VAT) and Pubilc Finance Management amendment Acts into law at State House, Nairobi. Looking on from left is Solicitor General Njee Muturi, Clerk of the National Assembly Justin Bundi, Cabinet Secretary National Treasury Henry Rotich, Majority Leader Aden Duale and Speaker of National Assembly Justin Muturi.

President Uhuru Kenyatta signs the 2014 Value Added Tax (VAT) and Pubilc Finance Management amendment Acts into law at State House, Nairobi. KUJ says it will sue if the ‘anti-media law’ is assented to. [Photo: PPS]

The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) and the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) have condemned Parliament’s passing of the Powers and Privileges of Parliament Bill 2014.

In a statement on Thursday, NCCK General Secretary Rev. Canon Peter Karanja said that by passing the Bill, parliamentarians had clearly stated their position on where they stand on matters of accountability.

He said,

“With clauses that propose hefty penalties to those who would be seen to have “Scandalised Parliament”, it is our considered opinion that MPs’ refusal to subject themselves to public scrutiny is an abuse of the public office and indeed an affirmation that Parliament, has failed the test on leadership and integrity.”

The statement added that parliamentarians have acted in unflattering ways sometimes inside parliament and that reporting of the same, when it happens, only informs Kenyans what their representatives do.

In what was a warning to what is seemingly becoming a rogue August House, Rev Karanja added

“It is foolhardy to keep battering the messenger instead of improving the message he carries. We wish to remind them (parliamentarians) that as stipulated in the Third Schedule, they took an oath of office to bear allegiance to the people of Kenya. Kenyans therefore, will not allow them to run amok, but shall consistently continue holding them to account directly or through various institutions.”

He dismissed claims by some MPs that they could be helpless should the media or anyone publish false reports against them as utterly baseless, since there is already adequate legislation on defamation.

“MPs are not sacrosanct or indeed immune to the rule of law, hence they cannot legislate and be the judge at the same time,” the statement added.

Elsewhere, KUJ said the passage of the draconian laws was an affront to press freedom with the Secretary General, Erick Oduor, saying that ‘it is a sad day for the Kenyan media industry’.

In a statement Oduor said,

“The Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill is an affront to the Constitution, which guarantees members of the Fourth Estate freedom to carry out their functions of informing the public without intimidation.”

The passage came despite Eldas MP Adan Keynan agreeing to delete offensive clauses in the Bill. Keynan had backtracked on his previous tough stance promising journalists in Nairobi that he would delete the sections.

Adan Keynan_Mavulture

Eldas MP Adan Keynan. He had agreed to delete offensive clauses in the Bill having had backtracked on his previous tough stance promising journalists in Nairobi that he would delete the sections. [Photo:]

Some of the sections of the Bill proposed hefty penalties, as much as Sh500,000 fines, for journalists found guilty of defamation.

However, the requirement for journalists covering parliamentary committee proceedings to seek the authority of the Speaker of the National Assembly or Senate, or parliamentary committee chairmen has been scrapped.

The Kenya Parliamentary Journalists Association Chairperson, Roselyne Obala, had suggested that the two offending clauses be removed, together with the one that spelt out the harsh penalties.

KUJ said,

“The proposed fines by the Bill are meant to intimidate journalists to turn a blind eye to corruption, mediocrity and sideshows that are synonymous with the activities of the 11th parliament,” the statement added.

“In addition, the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) in its advisory opinion on this Bill had warned Parliament against reintroducing criminal libel law in the country through the backdoor,” it stated.

The statement added,

“KUJ therefore, urges President Uhuru Kenyatta to reject this Bill. Otherwise, we will have no choice but to challenge it in court,” the statement concluded.

NCCK asked President Uhuru Kenyatta not to assent to the Bill with the offending clauses, but instead send it back to Parliament, to allow a wider stakeholder approach and consensus on them.

“The President is duty bound to ensure that Kenya continues to uphold the rule of law and remains a model of democracy and respect for the rights of the citizens in the region,” the statement added.

In an indictment of the MPs over their conduct, the statement said

“Judging from the history of most of our legislators, we consider as suspect the MPs’ introduction of the purported new offence called “Scandalising Parliament,” in the Powers and Privileges Bill 2014. We have no doubt that this is not only another machination by the MPs to hoodwink Kenyans but also an attempt to claw back on media freedoms in the country and limit access to information. The media plays a critical role in any democratic society and helps to expose ills in society.”

NCCK urged Kenyans to remain steadfast and vigilant on national issues and also commended MPs who have remained the voice of reason on such issues and urged them to continue standing with the people of Kenya.