Since the promulgation of the constitution in August 2010, Senators have consistently called for constitutional amendments to “give life and meaning to the Senate.” Surprisingly, when the harmonised draft Constitution was finally presented for Kenyans to comment upon, the majority of voters focused their minds on the structure of the National Executive.
As they debated and fought over whether the National Executive should be presidential or parliamentary, the structure of Parliament did not even feature in the top ten concerns of the electorate. It did not receive the attention given to Kadhi’s courts, abortion and representation by gender, land or devolution. There were flaws, to be sure, in the harmonised draft, but Kenyans chose to ignore them in pursuit of narrow point-scoring.
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I belong to the group that does not believe and/or support the idea that the Senate needs to be “strengthened”, or have its role “clarified.” The Senate is not the Upper House that Senators believe it is. It was not conceived so.
It is the institution whose principle duty is to “protect devolution”. It has performed dismally in protecting devolution because the Majority and Minority leadership in the Senate is busy playing handmaiden to political colossi in the form of Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga.
The irony here is that those Senators crying that they have been neutered and must be strengthened are the self-same MPs in past life of parliament who, during the constitution-making process, conspired to water down the powers and functions of the Senate.
Many of our senators may be respected and accomplished technocrats but they have proven to be completely useless in the political arena. All they have accomplished until now is to demonstrate as starkly as possible that the Senate is a useless chamber that must be scrapped.
Rather than plan for the inevitable, they have gone looking for new powers to exercise and new functions to perform. They have done everything they could rather than what they should. They have given scant attention to the devolution process and allowed it to be hijacked by the Executive, the Public Service commission, sundry irrelevant commissions and authorities, and political players out in the cold with idle hands ready for the Devil’s work.
And instead of directing their attention to the job at hand, they have picked useless fights with the National Assembly and the Executive, receiving the hiding they richly deserve at every turn.
Why politicians believed they could fashion themselves as an American-style Senate without commensurate ‘power’ to do so beggars belief. The US senate enjoys great oversight power; the Kenyan one does not. Our Senate is the equivalent of a glorified debating society which is only roused when it is time to take part in the budget-making process.
Kenyans choose a bicameral system, but no one considered the true reason for having a bicameral parliament. Part of the reason US’s Founding Fathers wanted a bicameral system with the positive vote of both required to pass legislation, was a natural extension of the concept of employing “checks and balances” to prevent tyranny.
Those conversant with US debates in the House of Representatives will tell you that often bills are passed within hours; the Senate takes weeks deliberating on the same Bill.
The US founding fathers did not intend that the House and Senate should be carbon-copies of each other. The inbuilt differences ensure that all legislation is carefully considered, by “taking both the short and long-term effects into account”, and considering a whole range of contexts.
Article 96 (1) on the role of Senate in describes it as to ”represent and protect interests of the counties and their governments, debating and approving bills concerning counties; determining the allocation of national revenues among counties…” What stops MPs from performing the functions of Senate when the constituencies they represent in parliament are part of the same counties Senate oversights?
Any planned national referendum must necessarily contain a question regarding the scrapping of Senate. We must then support such a referendum, to scrap the Senate (not to create more portfolios for bloated personal egos), in favour of a lean but powerful National Assembly. At the very least, this will bring down our massive wage bill. (
— Oscar Okwaro Plato is an analyst with Gravio Africa.