Azimio lawmakers storm out of Senate retreat, accuse Speaker Kingi of bias

Azimio Senators

Senate minority members led by Narok Senator Olekina Ledama address the media at Parliament Buildings Nairobi on March 4, 2024. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Azimio senators on Monday paralysed a Senate retreat after storming out of the meeting in protest against Speaker Amason Kingi whom they accused of turning the House into a Kenya Kwanza’s “playground”.

This is even as the legislators demanded that the Affordable Housing Bill, currently before the Senate, be subjected to public participation before it is considered by the House.

The lawmakers criticised the speaker for being the ruling regime’s puppet by aiding in bulldozing through unconstitutional bills pushed by President William Ruto’s administration in total disregard for the rules of the House.

Led by Minority Leader Stewart Madzayo, the senators criticised Mr Kingi for allowing the capture of Senate legislative business by the Executive despite protest from the minority side. 

Addressing the press after walking out of the retreat, Senator Madzayo said the speaker has contributed to the capture by stifling debate on controversial bills like SHIF and Health Promoters Bill, which are mostly clawing back on devolution.

The Kilifi senator said the Senate has been turned into Kenya Kwanza’s rubber stamp with Mr Kingi demonstrating open bias while presiding over government business.

He pointed out that there are several unconstitutional bills currently before the Senate including the Water Bill, and the Affordable Housing Bill.

“We have seen the emergence of a phenomenon where shortcuts are taken to fast track government bills, limit debate on the floor and elected leaders asking the speaker to “put the question” without any debate,” said Mr Madzayo.

Sh407 billion

“This phenomenon was taken to absurd heights during voting on the DORA 2023 when the majority side voted against recommendations of the House’s committee of Finance allocating counties Sh407 billion,” he added.

The minority leader pointed out that, on the other hand, bills sponsored by minority senators are frustrated through undue delays at the pre-publication stage, publication and processing at the committee stage.

Further, he said Speaker Kingi has repeatedly and without legal justification refused to approve for debate most motions and statements sponsored by members of the minority.

For instance, the Kilifi senator cited a case in the last session where motions to censure Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria for his attacks on the media, and the Inspector General of Police Japhet Koome for his conduct during the opposition anti-protests were rejected, ostensibly to “protect the image of the regime”.

He added that their senators have also complained of outright plagiarism and hijacking of their legislative ideas with their private bills ending up as government-sponsored bills, citing the digital health bill initially sponsored by nominated Senator Hamida Kibwana.

“This is part of the reason we saw no point in participating in today’s retreat when it is clear this pattern will continue in this session,” he said.

Senate Deputy Minority Whip Edwin Sifuna said they now want immediate recusal of members of the speaker’s panel notorious for stifling debate and not applying House rules equally.

He accused nominated senator Veronica Maina, a member of the panel, of high-handedness while presiding over House business.

Standing orders

“We have seen well-choreographed attempts to stifle debate on the floor through the unequal application of the standing orders. Some members of the speaker’s panel appear to be under instruction to allow numerous and repeated frivolous points of order whenever a member of the minority is on the floor,” said the Nairobi senator.

Further, he called for strict application of the standing orders during debates without bias as well as the speaker ruling on each point of order.

Senator Sifuna also said they are demanding an immediate response to all communication addressed to the speaker from the leadership of the minority including the complaint on the conduct of Senator Maina and reconstitution of committees.

“As a lawyer, it is professional misconduct for you (Kingi) not to respond to correspondence addressed to you,” said Mr Sifuna.

For his part, Senate Minority Whip Ledama Olekina said there is a crisis at the Senate and by storming out, they have expressed their dissatisfaction with how the House is being managed.

“We are not asking for favours but an opportunity for us to represent our people. If we are not allowed to debate, then how will we express the views of our people?” posed the Narok senator.

Migori Senator Eddy Oketch said the Affordable Housing Bill must be subjected to public participation to give the 47 counties a chance to pronounce themselves on it.

“The public participation done by the National Assembly does not tie us, so we demand that all the 47 counties be given a chance to pronounce themselves on the Bill,” he said.