What you need to know:
- Nakuru County Assembly will not hold physical sittings when it resumes from recess next week.
- Nakuru, Nyeri and Nyandarua county assemblies have already embraced technology to run sessions virtually.
Amid the surge of Covid-19 cases in the country, several county assemblies in the country, have scaled down operations even as they seek elaborate plans to embrace virtual sessions.
Nation.Africa has established that most county assemblies have suspended physical sessions, to curb the spread of Covid-19.
In Nakuru, for instance, County Assembly Speaker Joel Kairu on Thursday confirmed that the Assembly will not hold physical sittings when it resumes from recess next week.
“President Uhuru Kenyatta’s fresh containment measures last week suspended all physical meetings in five counties including Nakuru. Therefore we will not resume the normal sittings. Committee meetings will also be suspended as we fight the virus,” Mr Kairu told Nation.Africa.
“We are mulling over embracing virtual sessions in the coming months, until the spread of the virus is contained,” he added.
A source revealed that all staff at the assembly have been directed to work from home.
“We are currently working from home, except for security guards manning the assembly,” said the source.
In his address on the Covid-19 pandemic on Friday last week, President Kenyatta declared Nairobi, Kajiado, Machakos, Kiambu and Nakuru counties disease infested and ordered the cessation of movement into and out of them.
Later, the government clarified that the public can move freely within the zone but is prohibited from travelling into and out of it.
In a bid to tighten the Covid-19 measures to contain a devastating third wave, President Kenyatta also suspended all physical gatherings within the zoned area.
However, he said physical gatherings for worship can go on in the other counties while observing the 1/3 capacity rule and other Covid-19 containment measures.
However, it has emerged that most counties have moved to embrace digital sessions.
The County Assemblies Forum (CAF), the caucus that brings together all the 47 county assemblies, says the Houses will embrace digital sessions, as the country continues to report a steady increase of Covid-19 infections.
"County Assemblies countrywide cannot just stop representing their people during this crisis. The institutions must continue to function. Most of them have gone digital, embraced online meetings, and all their work will continue unimpeded," CAF chairman Wahome Ndegwa told Nation.Africa.
Various county assemblies across the country were closed down, in the past few months, after some ward representatives succumbed and several others tested positive for the virus
CAF chairman revealed that county assemblies, including Nakuru, Nyeri and Nyandarua have already embraced technology, to run sessions virtually.
"Nyeri and Nyandarua are already fully digitized, with installed e-parliament platforms, as we seek to re-open next year. I call upon all other assemblies to embrace technology as these will be the new normal. It is unlikely that we shall go back to our old ways of operations," said Mr Ndegwa.
Nation.Africa has learnt that in a number of counties, under the new platforms assembly sessions can be streamed live, with members interacting remotely.
Members of County Assembly can securely interact in real-time while maintaining social distancing and self-isolation safely at home.
According to Mr Ndegwa, Nyeri County Assembly never closed at any point due to Covid-19 because it went digital early.
The county assembly has been using teleconferencing facilities installed after the outbreak of Covid-19 to conduct business.
The facility has enabled the assembly to provide teleconferencing services for members and staff.
In Nyeri, plenary deliberations and committee sessions are carried out remotely.
Last year, ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru launched the teleconferencing facility in Nyeri, urging other county assemblies to also embrace technology in the Covid-19 era.
The county also launched its E-newsletter, Nyota ya Nyeri, last week.
The assembly received the teleconferencing facility as a donation by Huawei through the ICT ministry.
Outbreak of pandemic
"Technology us the way to go, in the Covid-19 period and beyond. We cannot suspend operations for ever. Technology will make life easier and enable us efficiently make laws and politick at the same time, with the public watching them in action," said a Nyeri MCA.
Nyandarua County Assembly has introduced stringent measures to limit the number of staff and ward representatives attending sittings.
The House has also moved to limit the number of members of public visiting the premises.
The measures aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19 bans the public from submitting hard copies of any communication to the assembly, and will now be required to write to the clerk through emails.
Making the communication, on Wednesday, the acting Speaker Zachary Njeru said the plenary sessions will physically be attended by five MCAs out of the 39.
Only a member of the Speakers panel, either the Majority Leader, his deputy, Chief Whip, or her deputy will be allowed to attend the assembly sittings in the gallery, to be joined by any MCA sponsoring a Motion or Bill and a seconder.
One member sitting in the County Assembly Service Board will also be allowed to attend the physical sittings, while only critical staff will be allowed access into the assembly premises.
“We have enhanced our hybrid system of physical and visual sitting in a bid to protect the MCAs and assembly staff from contracting Covid-19. Members not attending the physical sittings will participate in the assembly proceedings through zoom,” said the Speaker.
MCAs are among those who have been hit hard by outbreak of the pandemic in the country in March last year.
Succumbed to Covid-19
Statistics by CAF indicate, at least six ward representatives from across the country succumbed to Covid-19, since last October.
More than six county assembly Speakers have been infected by the virus so far. Dozens of MCAs have also been infected with others still battling the disease in various parts of the country.
The county assemblies that have lost ward representatives include Nakuru (2), Kisii (1), Uasin Gishu (1), Nyandarua (1) and Mombasa (1).
In October 2020,Uasin Gishu's Huruma Ward representative Peter Chomba, collapsed and died and posthumously tested positive for coronavirus.
In November 2020, Mombasa Nominated MCA, Mohammed Hatimy, who was also ODM chairman in Mombasa County, succumbed to Covid-19.
The same month, Kisii MCA, Kennedy Mainya (Kiamokama) passed on while being rushed to a Nairobi hospital for further medical attention.
Nakuru also lost Hell’s Gate MCA John Njuguna alias WaSussy to Covid-19 complications in November last year.
Surging infections among ward representatives led to the closures of assemblies, last year, to contain the spread of the virus.
Kirinyaga, Kilifi, Mombasa and Uasin Gishu county assemblies were among those that closed down to slow down the spread of the virus.