Privatisation Bill row heads to court

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u. FILE PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

A Senator has vowed to move to court to challenge the push by President William Ruto to sell parastatals without the approval of Parliament as opposition MPs prepare to fight changes to the law in the House.

Busia Senator Okiya Omtatah said he will move to court next week to stop the Privatisation Bill, 2023, arguing Parliament has become “extremely transactional” and succumbed to the whims of the Executive.

The Cabinet on Tuesday backed the Bill for tabling in the National Assembly. The Bill gives the Treasury unchecked powers in the privatisation plan.

The Bill gives power to the National Treasury to privatise public-owned enterprises without the approval of Parliament, describing an early process seeking the legislators’ nod as “bureaucratic.”

The decision has put the Ruto administration on a collision course with MPs, some of whom had rejected the proposals in the Bill.

“I will be moving to court next week to stop the Privatisation Bill. The people must invoke their sovereign powers under Article 1(1) and (2) of the Constitution and stand up and reject the proposals in toto,” Mr Omtatah said.

He said the Bill’s proposal to strip Parliament of its constitutionally sanctioned oversight role in the sale of State-owned corporations or parastatals must be subjected to a national referendum for approval.

Mr Omtatah said Article 255(1)(h) of the Constitution states categorically that any amendment to the functions of Parliament must be subjected to a national referendum.

“Transparency and accountability are constitutional imperatives. If Parliament, even in its current sorry state, is locked out of the process of selling public corporations, whatever little transparency and accountability that usually accrues from the public glare that goes with parliamentary processes will be thrown out of the window,” Mr Omtatah said.

“The proposal to strip State of its assets and hand them over to well-connected individuals in the guise of privatisation is ill-advised and unacceptable.”

He said if the government cannot manage the State corporations, the solution lies in addressing management as the problem and not ceding ownership to the private sector.

According to the Cabinet, the sale of non-strategic, non-performing public entities will help improve the upgrade of infrastructure and the delivery of services to Kenyans.

Should the Bill be passed by Parliament it will repeal the Privatisation Act, 2005 which requires the Finance minister [Treasury Cabinet Secretary] to present a report on the privatisation proposals approved by the Cabinet to the relevant committee of Parliament.

The Privatisation Commission, which will be renamed the Privatisation Authority if the proposed changes are adopted, said granting powers to the Treasury Cabinet Secretary to appoint members to the authority would be a threat to its independence.

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