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National Assembly: House of honour or slaughterhouse?

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Parliament buildings in Nairobi in this picture taken on June 7, 2024. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

The handling of the National Assembly affairs has triggered a storm on the neutrality of speaker Moses Wetang’ula in regards to discussing a stranger in the House.  

Discussing the conduct of a member or a colleague from another house requires a substantive motion as per the Standing Orders. However, the conduct of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Nyeri Governor Mutai Kahiga last Wednesday has lifted the lid on members growing beef with Mr Wetang’ula.  

The events in the National Assembly where lawmakers tore into the two leaders without a substantive motion have raised questions over the sanctity of the House.

Nandi Senator Samson Cherarkey has accused the Speaker of playing partisan politics instead of discharging his role as provided for in the constitution.

He referred to Standing Order 78 of the National Assembly Sixth Edition on contents of speeches, which states: “Neither the personal conduct of the President, nor the conduct of the Speaker or of any judge, nor the judicial conduct of any other person performing judicial functions, nor any conduct of the Head of State or Government or the representative in Kenya of any friendly country or the conduct of the holder of an office whose removal from such office is dependent upon a decision of the House shall be referred to adversely, except upon a specific substantive Motion of which at least three days’ notice has been given.”

It also expressly provides that it shall be out of order to use offensive or insulting language whether in respect of Members of the House or other persons.

Improper motive

“No member shall impute improper motive to any other Member or to a Senator except upon a specific substantive Motion of which at least three days’ notice has been given, calling in question the conduct of that Member or Senator,” reads part of the Standing Orders.

 “The Standing Orders of the National Assembly does not allow the conduct of the DP or any other person to be discussed without a substantive motion. We will not allow parliament to be used as a platform to insult the DP,” faulted Senator.

He went on, “I am still amazed that the Speaker, who is a learned friend, allowed MPs to disrespect the DP. If they have any beef with the DP let them use other public fora and not an institution of repute like the August House camouflaging to advance national interest yet its agenda.”

The senator regretted that he was not a member of the National Assembly, if he was he would have taken off with the mess to dissolve the House for lack of decorum.

He claimed that National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah had colluded with the Speaker, sharing a list of those members critical of the DP and the governor to speak and denying an opportunity to those with contrary stand.

“The speaker was given a list to choose those against the DP and governor. Speaker Wetang’ula should guide the House on account of neutrality,” he urged.

The MPs including those in leadership such as Majority Whip Silvanus Osoro and Ichung’wah termed the action of Mr Gachagua in using a commercial flight to Mombasa as embarrassing and shameful.

“It was a shame seeing the DP moving around carrying a bag as much as one wants to pull some PR stunts, it is about time we question the members of staff working at the DP, where were they when he was carrying the bag, taking pictures as he pulled the bag which looked very empty, it must have been bought at the airport,” Mr Osoro said.

It was curious why Mr Wetang’ula who was on the seat allowed MPs to shred Mr Gachagua into pieces without a substantive motion.

Mr Wetang’ula, however, clarified that the House was not discussing the conduct of the DP but the facilitation of the office.

“The person of the DP of this country is a responsibility of everybody, his movement to any part of the country has security implications, how he travels, who he travels with, where he travels has security implications,” Mr Wetang’ula said

“It is not a matter that is normal to see our DP towing a bag on the airside to the aircraft because you have appropriated resources to facilitate the work of the office of the presidency that is how I understood Okello’s concern,” he clarified.

Mr Kahiga was also on the receiving end over his remarks on calling for development to the Central region based on how they voted.

The two leaders are not the only leaders who have recently faced the wrath of MPs. In August last year, Sports and Culture Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba found himself on the wrong side of the House after being summoned by the House he wrote a letter to Speaker Wetang’ula and copied to majority leader Kimani Ichung’wa raising some issues.

Mr Namwamba was concerned by some remarks made by Mr Ichung’wa and Senator Cherarkey which he did not state in the letter.

In the letter which was read on the floor of the House by Mr Ichung’wa, Mr Namwamba said Parliament is well known for being a House of records backed with normative customs and traditions, there should be no admissibility of hearsay and not condemning someone unheard.

However, when he appeared before the plenary for the Wednesday, June 12, 2024, plenary, a section of MPs even went personal with the CS raising questions on the house rules and procedures in dealing with witnesses.

For instance, Tigania West MP John Mutunga questioned whether Mr Namwamba was in charge of the ministry just because the CS failed to turn up for an event in his constituency.

“I invited him to the launch of the Pan African book award by a member of my community, I spoke to the Personal Assistant and there was no word from the CS, I want him to tell this House whether he is in charge of the ministry,” Dr Mutunga asked.

During the session, Deputy Speaker Gladys Boss Shollei produced printed pictures which she acknowledged she printed from the website of team Kenya of players putting on fake adidas uniforms contrary to the information provided by Namwamba that the players were kited by Nike.

“It is public knowledge and it is in social media that our teams have been wearing knock-off fake adidas, fake Nikes, so how much did they spend on the fake uniforms which are most likely from River Road,” Ms Shollei asked

Ms Shollei was not challenged by Speaker Wetang’ula who was on their chair on the authenticity of the documents she was reading nor were the photos she said were downloaded from the internet.

The way the CS was handled goes against some of the rules that former Speaker Justin Muturi in the 12th Parliament laid down on what constitutes information to be used on the floor of the House to accuse a State or public officer.

In his communication, when former Wajir Woman Representative Fatuma Gedi accused then Deputy President William Ruto of being a land grabber, Mr Muturi ruled the documents tabled mostly picked from social media and other unverified sources were inadmissible.

Mr Muturi pointed out that for any document to pass the threshold of admissibility in the House, it must relate to the matter for which it has been tabled, must be signed, and if it is a government document, it must be authorized by a person or persons.

The document (s) must also bear the emblem or logo of the institution/person from which it originated or coat of arms in the case of documents from Government agencies, must indicate the author and person to whom it is addressed and must be stamped.

Further, if the document being submitted is electronic, it must be obtained from a source that does not permit alteration of contents.

In addition, the Speaker pointed out that before any member tabled a document before the House, they must confirm its authenticity and admissibility, for the member to further reference to the paper laid or to use them as evidence.

Some opposition MPs however, termed the action of his colleagues as unfortunate when lawmakers pick things up on social media without verification and use them to question a Cabinet Secretary.

“If we come to this House and refer to hot discussions that are going on in social media, to grill a Cabinet Secretary, we might miss the point,” Mr Nyamita said.