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Columnists

MPs have a case to answer on work of oversight agencies

Parliament in session
Parliament in session. After about 10 years in existence, it is reasonable to conclude that the oversight bodies have had a mixed performance. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A decade of implementing the Constitution of Kenya has lapsed and it is the right time to cast an eye on how Constitutional Commissions and Independent Offices have fared in delivering value.

The establishment of these bodies was motivated by our unpleasant past where accessing public services and enjoyment of basic rights had been curtailed by a rigid governance system that suffocated ordinary citizens.

Article 249 of the Constitution mandates the oversight bodies to protect the sovereignty of the people, secure the observance by all State organs of democratic value and principles; and to promote constitutionalism. The agencies are obligated to enhance inclusivity in governance, improve transparency and increase accountability of State organs.

The Commission on Administrative Justice (Office of the Ombudsman), which is mandated to enforce administrative justice and enforce the implementation of the Access to Information Act, 2016 has largely succeeded in resolving some of the most disheartening and long-running cases of administrative injustice in public service.

To date, the Commission has received more than 500,000 public complaints against government agencies, with a resolution rate of about 83 percent.

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Let me illustrate the enormity of the daily challenges ordinary Kenyans face in standing up to abuse of power and accessing public services.

In one case, a county Governor used his position to grab two prime plots from a widow. Upon investigations, the county chief’s fate was sealed at the Senate on the basis of our recommendations and other issues.

Similarly, after intervention by the Commission, a chief in Laikipia County was dismissed from the service after he was accused and found culpable of assaulting a woman who later lost her three-month pregnancy.

Additionally, the agony that many pensioners are subjected to when they should be enjoying their sunset days is a stain on the Pensions Department, which, unsurprisingly, is one of the public institutions most complained against to the Ombudsman.

Many retirees die waiting for pension dues, with claims of lost files being perfect excuse to extract bribes from desperate senior citizens who diligently served their nation.

After about 10 years in existence, it is reasonable to conclude that the oversight bodies have had a mixed performance.

Whereas the commissions and offices are supposed to be independent and oversight other government departments, they are required to be accountable to the people through their MPs.

At this point, it is right to interrogate how effective legislators have been in fulfilling their oversight obligations.

Commissions and independent offices should submit half-year and annual statutory reports to Parliament for scrutiny.

There is need to interrogate how Parliament has used these reports to deepen accountability and improve performance of these oversight agencies.

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