The leader of minority in the national assembly has proposed changes to Kenya’s constitution with a view to create an office of the leader of official opposition in parliament (LOOPP).
The president of the republic of Kenya has also via a memorandum to parliament proposed the creation of the same position.
All these efforts are laudable since they will serve to enhance accountability on the side of government as demanded by article 10 of our constitution.
The constitution allows for stakeholder and citizen participation in all law-making processes.
I wish to weigh in on this matter by stating the following;
- That as a country, we had this position of LOOPP in the previous constitutional dispensation. In all fairness, there was nothing to write home regarding its efficacy and fruitfulness then. To highlight some of the state’s excess for which the LOOPP would do nothing about;
- Financial impropriety. The golden-berg scandal remains the largest financial heist/ rip off ever visited on this country in the early 90’s where a total of Ksh 85Bn equivalent to Ksh 1.7 Tn today was siphoned from public coffers in fictitious payments to amorphous entities. The then LOOPP was the fiery Hon. Kenneth Matiba.
- Irregular and illegal sub-division of state-owned parcels of land and state-owned forests. Marmanet forest, parts of Mau, A.D.C land to name but a few.
- Tribalization and ethnicization of the public service. Dominance of politically correct tribes and sub tribes in the public service.
- Privatization of state corporations without strict adherence to the laid down procedures.
- Human rights abuses, etc.
- Skewed allocation of resources.
Seeking to re-introduce the position of LOOPP without much structural changes will be an exercise in futility and its neither worth the effort nor the cost. Further we shall have squandered the constitutional moment now that both sides of the political divide have agreed to consider re introducing the said position.
There must have been sufficient reasons why the great people of Kenya dropped the position while writing down a new constitution.
We run the risk of mutilating this constitution, just like the previous repealed one.
Some of the proposed amendments do not really inspire a lot of confidence in the new structure.
- Immunity from prosecution; this is not much of a departure from the present where all MPs enjoy qualified privilege.
- Funding from the exchequer.
- Permission to solicit funding from donors and other external sources.
- Annual address to parliament.
All the above proposed changes are good provisions but still don’t give LOOPP the grit to fully and effectively oversight the government.
The issue we are trying to solve is one that does not exist, a platform issue. The runner up in the immediate last presidential election has absolutely no platform issue. This is a person who get frequent media coverage, holds constant pressers and regularly generates news.
By giving him/ her a slot in parliament where he/ she gets an opportunity to speak in the floor of the house does not really change anything, the point at which rubber meets the road is when a decision is to be taken (VOTING IN PARLIAMENT).
My Take is That
After a bill is passed by parliament, just before it is presented to the president for either assent or referral, the opinion of the LOOPP must be sought.
If the LOOPP is contented that the bill will serve the interest of the country, then the bill to be forwarded to the president for assent or otherwise.
If the LOOPP has got reservations regarding the bill, then the LOOPP should pen down his/ her reasons for disapproval in a memorandum, the bill to revert back to parliament, his/ her memorandum to be debated and the bill to be subjected to another round of voting.
Parliament can still overrule the LOOPP by taking another vote with or without amendments. This time round, for it to pass, it must be by an absolute majority of the whole house and not just a mere simple majority. This will solve the problem of bills being passed by a minority few.
By increasing the threshold, from simple majority to absolute majority of the whole house, this one alone increases objectivity and improves the quality of bills and lessens prejudice and also reduces biases and other forms of bigotry. It enhances independence of mind of individual members. This will to a greater extent restore institutional independence of parliament. Secondly it will help substantially reduce or totally eliminate mischief in law making.
We are likening LOOPP to a “two-step verification” which adds an extra layer of security in technology. To avoid hastily passing of bills and to force MPs back to the chambers of parliament.
An example of a recent hastily passed bill is the IEBC selection panel bill which was processed in parliament when most Mps were attending the EALA games in South Sudan. When it was referred to the senate for concurrence, it was passed un-procedurally with the matter now being subject to a judicial process. Such would have been forestalled by LOOPP.
We are strongly opposed to the LOOPP’s vote bearing equal weight to that of an ordinary member of parliament for the following reasons;
- Criteria: MPs are elected to represent an average of 164,000, while the LOOPP commands a national constituency.
- Margin of victory: the difference between the winner and the first runner up in a presidential is always very slim. The 2007, 2013, 2017 and 2022 attest to this fact.
- Unprocedural defections of members of parliament to opposing sides.