News that the National Assembly’s Public Investments Committee blocked the proposed takeover of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) by Kenya Airways (KQ) is disturbing, to say the least. Without elaborating on why they want the process halted immediately and after calling for a forensic audit by the Auditor-General on how the deal was reached, MPs have destroyed a strategic proposal to give the airline a chance to compete with other regional airlines on equal terms.
Checks and balances in democracy should never be in anticipation of what will happen, ex ante. The role of parliament in any democracy is to promote democracy and governance. Parliament’s key function centers on legislation, representation and oversight.
It should also actively engage in the development and implementation of laws, policies and practices that promote democracy and good governance. Nowhere in its functions is parliamentary allowed to intervene on strategic policy development and execution.
However, in its oversight role, parliament can question strategic decisions that fail to meet national aspirations for economic development after the fact or ex post on behalf of the people.What Parliament has just done is an example of an excuse that is regularly abused by those who purport to represent the people. Representation is not a passive activity that is blind to people’s aspirations. It is a live activity of educating the masses and listening to their views on each aspect of development. On such a critical matter touching on national interests, parliamentarians cannot purport to be the final arbiters. The least Parliament would have done is to call for a public hearing so that the views of the people can be incorporated.
Several corporate issues are interfered with by Parliament and passed under the guise of people’s interest. It forgets that the maxim of the people, by the people, for the people goes beyond its unilateral decisions on many issues in the recent past. In modern democracies, the narrative of representation now centers on empowering the people in order to effectively participate in development matters.
A 2018 United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) report, ‘‘The Role of Parliament in Promoting Good Governance,’’ makes the observation that when people are empowered, they effectively participate in the development processes and truly consider such development to be of their choice.
The study adds that in order for the people to be sufficiently empowered, they must be provided with the relevant information and knowledge, education and training so that they can effectively and meaningfully participate in the development processes.
If parliament does not reach out to the people or at least make decisions based on evidence, they rob citizens off their rights. It is common knowledge that some legislators sitting in key committees of Parliament such as the Public Investments Committee hardly do any homework, leave alone being educated on the matter before arriving at crucial decisions such the one they made.
Instead, they rely on rumours, innuendos and sometimes, outright compromise from lobbyists to skew decisions in their favour. This is not good for the country.
We cannot continue to blame management for loss of key strategic assets when we know that our Parliament is the greatest impediment to development in the country. How does KQ compete with subsidised regional airlines? It is the Kenya Airports Authority that has given carte blanche to KQ’s fiercest competitors to fly into any airport in the country when that opportunity is not reciprocated in their home countries. Those who have travelled to the Middle East know that KQ’s flight schedule is undermined by the unholy hours that it is allotted in those countries. In those countries, the airports and the airline are one and the same thing.
Perhaps we need to learn from the insights of the Hungarian philosopher Karl Polanyi, whose key message was that there is no such thing as a free market. There never has been, and there never can be. If the region demands an eye for an eye on economic matters, then let’s do it. Parliament must leave the government alone to implement a competitive advantage for KQ. And that is democracy too.