Ichung’wah: Why the government’s agenda succeeds in the House

Kimani Ichung'wa

Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung'wa speaks during a church servicer at Jesus is Alive Ministries along Haile Selassie Avenue, Nairobi, on December 6, 2020.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

On October 6, 2022, National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula ended the contest over the majority coalition in the National Assembly, and effectively handed Kikuyu MP Anthony Kimani Ichung’wah the mantle of leader of majority.

 Mr Wetang’ula ruled that the President’s Kenya Kwanza coalition has 179 MPs of the 349 MPs in the House against Azimio’s 157 MPs.

The position of leader of majority attracts praise, criticism, friends and foes in equal measure. How has the Kikuyu MP performed in his quest to ensure the agenda of the government succeeds in Parliament for the period he has been in office? He spoke to Nation.

How has been your experience in the office?

It’s a busy office, demanding, challenging and the expectations from members and constituents are high. This office requires commitment to succeed because the meetings with the House leadership, staff, and members are many. My greatest responsibility as the leader of majority is to ensure that the government’s agenda succeeds. I will work with everyone including consulting the minority side to achieve this.

Will it be fair to judge your ability to serve from the time you have been in office?

I have been in office for two months now and I have been able to do what I could. So far, under my leadership and with the support of my colleagues, leadership and parliamentary staff, the government has had its agenda flow in the House seamlessly.

Talk about the successful vetting of the Cabinet Secretaries, Attorney-General, Inspector General of Police, Secretary to the Cabinet and Principal Secretaries and their subsequent approval by the House. It has gone according to plan, not by default but by reaching out to members and mobilising them to ensure they attended the plenary sittings to approve the nominees. The President has already gazetted the members of the Commission on Revenue Allocation after they were approved by the House. They are due for swearing-in early next year.

The adoption of the report of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee on the four electoral commissioners that saw the President constitute a tribunal to investigate them is also another success. But I cannot say that is enough achievement because we are just starting. There will be a lot in the coming days and it's my hope every agenda of the government succeeds.

The office you hold makes you the agent of the Executive in the House to ensure that its agenda succeeds. Are you the right person for it?

One thing Kenyans need to understand is that in a pure presidential system of government that we have now, Parliament works in a bipartisan manner as opposed to adversarial that is common in parliamentary system. I consult widely and reach out to all, including the minority side because, after all, we work for the people of Kenya. That’s why after moving a government motion in the House, I may ask the leader of the minority party or coalition to second it.

If I am not in the House and my deputy is also not in, the leader of the minority side will table a government document or move a government motion in the House. This is the spirit of the Parliament of Kenya in the pure presidential system.

In the parliamentary system of government, things are run a bit differently because you have the government side and the opposition side in the House all with competing interests. The opposition is tasked to check the executive.

What challenges have you encountered as the leader of the majority coalition in the House?

Members have huge expectations and they will always want you to satisfy them because “we put you there”.

As the leader of majority, the Standing Orders of the House stipulate that I chair the House Committee on Selection. This committee also includes the leader of minority and the two whips and has the mandate to constitute all the House committees with the exception of the House Business Committee and Committee on Appointment.

I can tell you that I got requests from 155 MPs who wanted to be members of the Transport and Infrastructure committee against the 15 slots. So, it is difficult to satisfy everyone but I have since learned that patience with members will always get you out of a difficult situation.

Are some committees are more lucrative?

Not at all. All committees are equal and attract the same sitting allowances. What may have interested members in the Transport and Infrastructure Committee could be so as to push for roads projects in their constituencies. Making all the committees of the House work to serve all members and the public devoid of preferential treatment is where we are headed.

Some of your colleagues claim you are arrogant, aloof and untouchable. What do you make of this?

Those making such claims don’t know the kind of a person I am. I am down to earth. I am accessible to all, right from my constituents, who are my bosses, my colleagues, and the staff of parliament. I have an open door policy. I consult all not because of the position I hold but because it is just the right thing to do as a leader.

I was the chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee (BAC) in the 12th parliament. Staff and members who served with me in the committee know that I am a sober person ready to listen and serve. It is the same attitude that I have brought into this House. 

The relationship between the National Assembly and the Senate has been chaotic in the last ten years leading to court actions. Is the same likely to continue?

Our mandates are clearly explained in the constitution, the law and the Standing Orders. All I can say is that we will execute our roles as defined by the Constitution and the law for the good of the country. Along the way, we may find ourselves in court but that’s not to say we don’t see eye to eye. The courts exist to guide us and develop what lawyers like to call jurisprudence or the philosophy of law or rather the advancement of law in our country, which is good.

You are now in your third term as a member of the House. What would you tell the first-term MPs?

It is not easy to get reelected. Ask those who have made it back. Members, whether new or veterans, should learn to listen to their constituents, be with them and deliver on election pledges.