A number of challenges still face our national and county assemblies leaving them unable to effectively carry out their oversight roles, at a huge cost for Kenyans. This failure at parliamentary levell has in effect also diminished the oversight roles of independent institutions like the auditor-general and controller of budget offices, whose many recommendations on accountability have remained ignored over the years.
The challenges range from lack of political will to see through strong public interest bills, sectarian interests that override public interest in investigations, non-implementation and enforceability of committee decisions, lack of transparency, limited resources, competencies and time among other reasons.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand how some of the many huge projects that end up being ghost projects pass through the various parliamentary committees and whether these same organs take the auditor-general’s reports seriously. And whether there are Cabinet resolutions and papers on some of these mega projects is a discussion for another day.
In our system of governance where Parliament and its various committees remain the main watchdogs over the use of public resources, its embarrassing that the executive, at both the national and county levels, remains unchallenged and made to account for the loss of public resources that we are currently witnessing in Kenya. The leaders of governments are rarely put to task, Parliament demanding Cabinet resolutions that approved some investments or policy direction, serious committees grilling heads of public agencies or ministries over audit queries or corruption among others. Senators have not done well either- many of the sessions to task governors over accountability issues at the counties are normally turned into political dramas
Key priorities are given to bills fronted by the executive to sort out or fix an issue or those serving to improve to individual welfare issues of MPs. Good pro-people bills are progressively diluted at various legislative stages or are abandoned midway and in the most extreme cases killed. Gradually, private members or political party bills have died, while nominated members who would have brought special interest legislation seem lost.
For example, most of the assemblies and county offices are not friendly to persons with disabilities, but no policies to address such are being brought. Stories of what happens in Parliamentary committees especially at the counties are heart wrenching starting from corruption, brokerage to rent seeking.
Am not sure if committees responsible for tracking the implementation of decisions of the assemblies by the executives are functional and have anything to report about. There are many cases of the executive or public agencies failing to implement the decisions of Parliament with no repurcussions. While the National Assembly and the Senate committees have powers, we have not seen them use them to enforce their decisions or recommendations. Other challenges include inadequate technical and support staff, lack of modern infrastructure and technology to facilitate their work while facilities at the assembles are not friendly for public participation or the media because of a number of inherited buildings from the defunct local governments, which they have been unable to modernise.
Such an environment inhibits the assemblies from tracking use of public resources, implementation of their recommendations/decisions while in areas such as national security and defence, either national security laws or administrative codes are used to restrict their over sight roles.
At the individual level, bad behaviour by some members has seen them unable to exercise their oversight role in Parliament. A number of them rarely attend sessions, because of attending to Constituencies /ward issues including travelling to their local areas, while some are still involve in professional duties or businesses.
Legislators must prioritise their over sight role as a matter of principle and obligation. They need to spend more time on matters of public interest through Parliament instead of through funerals, especially when the 2022 elections are still far.
We need a robust Parliament that focuses on national pro-people issues, a team that constructively interrogates the decisions of the executive so that it delivers to the people of Kenya.
Victor Bwire via email.