Why majority leadership is a do-or-die affair for Ruto's Kenya Kwanza
What you need to know:
- The decision will have implications on the constitution of the House Business Committee (HBC) and the Committee on Appointments.
- Azimio controlling this committee means a hostile report is inevitable as the coalition’s lawmakers have openly vowed to reject nominees facing criminal cases.
- Even more troubling for the government would be a HBC dominated by Azimio as this is the team that decides the agenda to be placed before MPs.
The control of powerful committees that decide the agenda of the National Assembly and vet Cabinet Secretary nominees is fuelling the fight over which coalition is the majority in the House.
As National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula this afternoon rules on which coalition between Kenya Kwanza and Azimio la Umoja One Kenya is the majority side, the decision will have implications on the constitution of the House Business Committee (HBC) and the Committee on Appointments.
Besides the 10 House leaders, led by the Speaker, the 28-member Committee on Appointments (CoA) includes 18 other members “nominated by the House Business Committee, on the basis of proportional party membership in the House taking into consideration the numerical strength of the parties and interests of Independent members.”
This means the majority side will have more representation in the committee whose first order of business will be to vet President William Ruto’s Cabinet nominees.
Azimio controlling this committee means a hostile report is inevitable as the coalition’s lawmakers have openly vowed to reject nominees facing criminal cases.
This would force the government to fight to overturn any adverse recommendation against a nominee during the vote on the committee’s report in the House.
Even more troubling for the government would be a HBC dominated by Azimio as this is the team that decides the agenda to be placed before MPs.
It’s an organ past governments have used to frustrate debate of business unwelcome to the ruling party.
This quest to ensure government business is smooth sailing in Parliament partly explains why President Ruto set out to woo the 12 Independent MPs to bolster his coalition’s numbers.
Already the two coalitions have separately written to Mr Wetang’ula seeking to be recognised as the bona fide majority side in the 349-member National Assembly.
One would be forgiven for easily dismissing the two parties for waging a war where none exists as both the leader of the majority and minority in the House are remunerated equally, enjoy similar benefits and have an equal number of staff paid for by the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC).
The majority whip and the minority whip also enjoy perks that are similar.
But what is not immediately obvious is that the majority coalition enjoys numerical strength in the House committees, meaning, they can easily use the numbers to influence or even block particular agendas.
The Speaker’s ruling this afternoon will therefore have far-reaching implications on which coalition gets more numbers in HBC.
The 14-member committee is chaired by the Speaker and has the leader of the majority, the leader of the minority, the majority whip and the minority as automatic members by virtue of their positions in the House.
The committee also has nine members nominated by the political parties in terms of their strength in the House, as well as MPs elected as independents. This means that the majority party will enjoy more representation.
The HBC nominates majority members to sit on the 28-member Committee on Appointments (CoA) which is also chaired by the Speaker and has the responsibility to vet individuals nominated by the President as Cabinet Secretaries for approval by the House.
Other than the Speaker, the CoA consists of the Deputy Speaker, majority leader, minority leader, deputy leader of the majority and the deputy leader of the minority as automatic members.
The committee further includes at least 15 members nominated by the HBC on the basis of proportional party membership in the House.
This means that should Mr Wetang’ula decide Azimio is the majority party in the House, President Ruto will face difficulties not just in having his nominees approved but also in the prioritisation of the business to be transacted in the House.
Mr Amos Nyasani, a governance expert and political analyst, said that Kenya Kwanza is not ready to be the minority party because it is the one forming the government.
“It is the reason President Ruto has been pulling friendly parties to his side so that it appears he has the majority in the House,” said Mr Nyasani.
By law, Azimio is the majority side with 170 elected MPs in the National Assembly against Kenya Kwanza’s 167. But politically this changed after the United Democratic Movement (UDM), Maendeleo Chap Chap (MCC), Movement for Democracy and Growth (MDG) and Pan African Alliance (PAA), moved with 12 MPs, from Azimio to Kenya Kwanza.
Azimio argues that the parties are still its members because of the coalition agreement they signed.
“The danger of Kenya Kwanza being dominated by Azimio in the House committees cannot be ignored. An Azimio majority in the CoA would mean a likelihood of a negative report against the President’s CS nominees,” Mr Nyasani added.
President Ruto announced his Cabinet nominees on September 27. Among the nominees are former Meru Senator Mithika Linturi (Agriculture and Livestock) and former Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa (Public Service), who have pending criminal cases in court. But Mr Linturi may be off the hook after the woman who had accused him of sexual assault withdrew the case.
Yesterday, Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, Azimio’s designated leader of the majority, said that his coalition’s position on some of the CS nominees has not changed.
“We have already taken a position on this matter. It is shocking that the UDA administration has packed the proposed Cabinet with some men and women who should be in jail for engaging in economic crimes and sabotage of the country,” said Mr Wandayi.
The Public Appointments (Parliamentary Approval) Act provides that the National Assembly shall approve the nominees within 28 days from the date the notification of their nomination is made to the House by the Speaker.
The Ugunja MP, however, added that the MPs will give a fair hearing to all the nominees.
“As lawmakers, we shall accord fair hearings to all of the nominees. But they must know that there are a lot of questions about some of them and we will be asking those questions relentlessly. We expect that they will be prepared for the uncomfortable questions we shall be asking,” he said.
However, Belgut MP Nelson Koech said that Kenya Kwanza has the numbers to approve the President’s nominees.
“The earlier the Azimio people realise that they have no numbers the better. Because if they realised that, they would not be making noise and according to themselves positions they do not have,” said Mr Koech.
The National Assembly Standing Orders provide that HBC shall be established within seven days of the start of a new House, which lapses today. The 13th Parliament was inaugurated last week on Thursday with its hallmark being the address by the President.
The fight for majority recognition in the House meant that the HBC could not be constituted yesterday due to the leadership wrangles with the Speaker promising to give his reasoned direction today.
The Committee on Selection, chaired by the leader of the majority and which is also dominated by the majority party or coalition in the House, is responsible for the nomination of members to the House departmental committees.
The departmental committees are responsible for vetting respective presidential nominees – Principal Secretaries, Attorney-General, Auditor-General, Controller of Budget, Inspector-General of Police (jointly with the Senate committee responsible), envoys and chairpersons and members of the constitutional commissions.
As the President unveiled the list of his Cabinet nominees, he also nominated former National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi as Attorney-General, Communications Authority director Mercy Wanjau as Secretary to the Cabinet and Japheth Koome as IG.
Mr Muturi will be vetted by the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee of the House, Mr Koome by the joint sitting of the security committees in the National Assembly and Senate and Ms Wanjau by the CoA.
“This is the reason Kenya Kwanza is doing all it can to ensure that it assumes the majority leadership in the House. Being dominated by Azimio in the House committees would likely affect the government’s agenda, akin to the scenes that played out during the days of the grand coalition government,” said Mr Nyasani.
However, the House Standing Orders provide that the watchdog committees – Public Accounts Committee, Public Investments Committee and the Committee on Implementation shall be dominated, chaired and deputised by MPs from a party other than the one forming the national government.
The House rules also state that members of the Special Fund Accounts Committee (SFAC) shall elect a chairperson and vice-chairperson from among independent members.
The SFAC leadership may also come from members of the committee nominated from a party other than the party forming the national government, in the absence of independent members.