Undermining party discipline an affront to democracy

Registrar of Political Parties Ann Nderitu at a past event in Nairobi.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The fight for the control of Jubilee party has been going on publicly since February. But behind the scenes the onslaught started immediately after the last general election.

The executive has been making concerted efforts to recruit independents and MPs from UDM, Jubilee, Kenya Union Party and other political parties to the government side.

By mid-April, the fight for Jubilee had turned physical, with some ugly scenes at the party HQ. And in the hurry to build a parliamentary majority, all the parliamentary rules and the rules of natural justice have been thrown out the window.

An MP should not be in government and opposition at the same time. But apparently, it is possible in Kenya!

But what is the end game? A parliamentary super-majority would afford the Kenya Kwanza regime an opportunity to pass not only unpopular taxation measures, but also amend the Constitution.

The Finance Bill 2023 has been met with anger. The proposals therein are not only contradictory, they will cause real harm. Criticism is widespread, and with good reason. A few examples will suffice.

Industry experts have warned that increasing VAT on fuel to 16 per cent from the current eight per cent will increase pump prices by nine shillings per litre for diesel, and Sh10 per litre of petrol. This in turn will increase transport costs and the prices of all other goods.

Targeting the informal sector with a three per cent turnover tax and reducing the threshold to Sh1,370 daily is punitive, as these businesses are already hurting from high electricity charges.

The proposed 15 per cent withholding tax for digital content creators discriminates against them, since all other professional services pay five per cent. Taxation of digital assets non-fungible token at three per cent of market value is tantamount to taxing losses.

The three per cent Housing Fund has been criticised as both discriminatory and misguided. Discriminatory because those already owning houses will still pay.

The regime’s claim that it is a saving and not tax has become the butt of jokes, with memes of the Housing PS struggling to explain it surfacing during the week. It is difficult to defend this proposal. There is no clarity on how the proposed fund would be managed.

Unpopular proposals

So, how do you ram unpopular proposals through Parliament? Muzzle your side and disorganise or buy out the opposition. And this is where the fight for Jubilee comes in.

The budget policy statement (BPS) was tabled in Parliament mid-February. It could be just coincidence, but the aggressive onslaught on Jubilee started at the same time. The BPS proposed a very aggressive borrowing and taxation plan to finance a Sh269 billion budget increase. The financial markets became jittery, forcing the cancellation of a proposed 15-year bond. But Kenya Kwanza lawmakers defended the BPS and quickly adopted it.

Responding to the emerging issues, the Jubilee party leader called for a special national delegates convention. NDC is the highest decision-making body in any party. In a move to frustrate the NDC, Bomas of Kenya refused to make the venue available, citing non-existent repairs.

Jubilee relocated to the Ngong Race Course. The Registrar of Political Parties responded by issuing letters purporting to expel some officials from the party.

Azimio responded by suspending bipartisan talks. If the will of 4,000 delegates can be ignored in favour of two individuals, then at risk is the whole multiparty democracy project.

Kenya Kwanza made quite clear their intention to change the Constitution through a memorandum to Parliament last December. Indeed, they carried the issues of the memorandum to the bipartisan talks.

A weak and dysfunctional Parliament paves the way for both the taxation and constitutional changes. One of the safeguards is party discipline, and here the roles of the registrar, the Speaker and Political Parties Dispute Resolution Tribunal come into sharp focusIn parliamentary affairs, enforcement of party discipline is through whipping. To enforce discipline, errant members are de-whipped.

The Speaker’s role must be beyond reproach. The Speakers of both Houses have had to contend with the removal of opposition whips. Errant and undisciplined members should not enjoy the Speaker’s protection, as that would completely undermine party discipline, destroy issue-based politics and bring the National Assembly and Senate into disrepute.

The registrar of political parties and the political parties dispute resolution tribunal must strictly enforce party constitutions. A member can, of course, change their mind and move parties, in which case they must seek fresh mandate.