House committees can buoy foreign economic policy

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By Joel Okwemba

Prior to 1964, the only existing House committee was the Standing Committee and its role then was constrained to reacting and reviewing business as determined by the Executive, with limitations in advancing public interest. Further marginalisation of parliament would follow with the rise of the imperial presidency and developments such as de facto one party state (1964-1969) and the abolition of Senate in 1967.

This was to change course with the establishment of the Parliamentary Service Commission and Parliamentary Service in the years 1999/2000, allowing parliament to engage in the development of its institutions.

A significant reform made by the 10th Parliament (2008-2012) was the enactment of the Fiscal Management Act which introduced Budget Policy Statement (BPS) requiring that the Minister for Finance table the policy in Parliament by March 21 of every year.

The Act and consequent legislations have provided for, among others, the Minister to publish every month in the Kenya Gazette the actual revenues and actual exchequer releases to ministries and government departments; created a budget committee and Parliamentary budget Office as its secretariat to provide timely and non-partisan economic and budgetary information to the National Assembly; gave parliament the power to amend the Executive budget proposal and reallocate resources to other programs viewed as necessary by the public; and entrenched public participation in the budget process.   

From time to time, departmental committees would be created in line with the country’s needs, and continuously improved to enhance participation, transparency and accountability.

Economic diplomacy has been emphasised by the President in his foreign meetings both home and abroad. Foreign Affairs CS, Amb. Monica Juma during the vetting process, mentioned a re-structuring at the Ministry to have ambassadors appointed to champion further the economic and commerce interests of the country. To highlight this need, the historical signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area envisioning the creation of one African Market on March 21 puts Kenya at an advantage due to its large manufacturing bases.

However, for the Agreement to come into effect, Parliament will first have to ratify it. Noteworthy is that Nairobi has hosted the 10th Ministerial World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting (December 2015) and the 14th session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XIV) – a clear demonstration that Foreign Affairs and International Trade agenda are to be matched.

Other factors are as evidenced by the 2018 Fiscal Budget Policy, which identifies the current global risks and developments that would affect the economic growth of the country as the United States’ trade and economic policies, the Brexit Outcome, growth rates in India and China and normalization of the monetary policies in advanced economies. Regionally, political tensions in Burundi, Somalia and South Sudan constrain regional economic activity while GDP growth in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda contribute to the stable macroeconomic environment.

The effectiveness of the committee on Defence and Foreign Relations can be strengthened by realigning it to meet the current needs of the Foreign Policy being, Economic. The function of Defence could easily be merged with the current Administration and National Security Committee to form the departmental committee on Administration and National Security Strategy.

The function of Trade in the departmental committee on Finance, Planning and Trade Committee could be transferred to the Foreign Relations committee for complete harmonisation of principals, focus and leadership. This will create the departmental committee of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. (

— Writer is MD, Centre for International & Security Affairs.

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