MPs bristling for a fight over House plan for Ruto ministers

William Ruto

President William Ruto with the Speaker of the National Assembly Moses Wetangula and Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi during the Post-Election Seminar for the 13th Parliament in this photo taken on January 30, 2023.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit I Nation Media Group

A political showdown is looming in the National Assembly once lawmakers resume sittings next week as President William Ruto pushes for the speedy formulation of a framework that will allow Cabinet secretaries (CSs) to answer questions in Parliament.

While President Ruto and his allies are proposing to amend Parliament’s Standing Orders to allow the CSs to answer questions to boost accountability, Opposition MPs are of the opinion that it is a departure from the country’s governance structure, unless the Constitution is changed.

CSs can only be summoned by departmental committees to answer questions but not in plenary on the floor of the House.

President Ruto, who has once again defended his proposal, said the framework will enhance parliamentary effectiveness and facilitate good governance.

“In keeping with this commitment to enhancing government accountability, I have formally requested Parliament to formulate within its procedures a mechanism for Cabinet Secretaries to appear before the House and give account to the people’s representatives,” Dr Ruto told MPs in Mombasa.

The Head of State wants MPs to move with speed in effecting the amendment of the Standing Orders once the House resumes.

“Article 1534 B states that Cabinet secretaries shall provide Parliament with full and regular reports concerning matters under their control. With a lot of respect, let me make this argument…I was privileged to be part of the constitution-making process and we had an opportunity to decide whether this country shall go parliamentary or presidential way,” he explained.

Dr Ruto said his administration is not trying to renegotiate the Constitution but the issue was one of accountability.

“I am a strong believer that a government is as good as the accountability mechanism that has been put in place,” he said.

National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula welcomed the President’s proposal.

“To attend a session of the House to answer specific questions regarding their ministries; that is a sign of good governance and being accountable to the people,” said Mr Wetang’ula.

But Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party leader Raila Odinga has signalled his  opposition to the idea, saying, it is a departure from the country’s structure of government.

The Orange Democratic Movement leader urged the Head of State to engage with Kenyans and the opposition leaders on any constitutional amendment he is intending to initiate.

National Assembly Minority leader Opiyo Wandayi, who by virtue of his role in the House heads the opposition troops, said: “Today, we have a situation where Parliament is being asked to originate legislation creating the Office of the Leader of Opposition and allowing Cabinet secretaries to attend House proceedings and answer questions from MPs. Are we sure we want to be the assembly that could not take a stand whether we are a presidential or a parliamentary system? Can’t we make up our minds for once?”he posed.

Leader of the Majority Kimani Ichung’wah said there is no provision in the Constitution that prevents CSs from answering questions on the floor of the House.

Pro-government MPs, the Kikuyu MP said, were ready to review the Standing Orders “while protecting the independence of the National Assembly to safeguard its constitutional mandate and the public interest.”