Define roles to end feud in bicameral Parliament

The battle for supremacy between the Senate and the National Assembly has gone on for a long time, hampering cooperation for the benefit of Kenyans. Its genesis is the failure to determine which of the two Houses of Parliament is superior to the other.

That can only be resolved once and for all by clearly defining the roles and powers in the bicameral Parliament to determine which the Upper House is. There have been ugly spats with the Senate often being derogatively described as “nyumba ya wazee (home for the aged)”. Of course, both have key functions.

The latest episode in the bitter rivalry is over the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC). The National Assembly wants the Supreme Court to bar the Senate from participating in the enacting of a law on the functions and powers of the PSC.

The Members of the National Assembly want a Court of Appeal decision that senators should have been involved in the enactment of the Parliamentary Service Act, 2019 reversed. They argue that the Act does not concern county governments, whose oversight is the Senate’s key job.

Clear distinction

In other jurisdictions, including the US, whose influence is evident in our Constitution through the counties and the national government modelled on the Senate and Congress, there is a clear distinction between the Upper and Lower Houses.

Last November, the National Assembly had the last laugh when the appellate court restored 21 of 24 laws that had been nullified by the High Court for having been passed without the Senate’s input. That only intensified the hostility between the two Houses of Parliament that has raged since 2013.

Probably, that would not have arisen had the drafters of the 2010 Constitution made the Senate the Upper House, to endorse the National Assembly’s decisions. The 1963 Constitution had a Senate of 41 members as the Upper House but it was abolished in 1966, ushering in a one-party dictatorship.

The Senate cannot check the excessive powers of the National Assembly, whose members have continued to flex muscles by sometimes cutting its budget. There is a need to explore a law review to reinvigorate the Senate as a key pillar of democracy.