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Senate should retain collective decisions

by biasharadigest
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Senate should retain collective decisions

Senate in session
Senate in session. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A small, quiet and eminently dignified revolution occurred in our Senate last week, prompted by a motion that was meant for a fast vote. It was a vote put during the parliamentary recess. Senators were called back for it. The House was not packed.

The subject was impeachment, to be precise the impeachment of the Governor of Kiambu. Comparisons have been made with the US, because the US is living through an impeachment process too. And it is striking, in fact, how similar these two impeachments are in terms of the processes, and the requirements for process strategy.

But how very different they are in purview and accountability. For, in the US, the media is all over the impeachment for due process, whereas, in Kenya, the media is barely discussing due process at all.

Yet so huge are the implications that follow from how legislative matters are handled that it’s time we woke up to simple matters of agenda fixing, legislative bypass, and failures of due process.

To whit, many years ago, a lawyer friend told me that practising law rested strongly on just one thing, which was that as people did things, a key question was always: ‘by what right’? And so it was, in a small diversion by our Senate. In considering an impeachment, there are options, both in the US and in Kenya. Our Senate could hear this matter as a whole body or assign it to a committee to make recommendations.

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Normally it would be for the Senate to decide which path to take. But never overlook the power of getting control of the order paper.

Instead of asking the Senate whether it wanted a full plenary or an assigned committee, those who do not always pass the ‘by what right?’ test went another path and sought to get approval for a committee by creating a motion selecting the committee, and its members, and creating some extra clauses, too, for how it should operate.

The motion got snared on a rebellious Senator and thrown out in favour of a plenary session. But it is worth noticing the bid that was masked in there, with one clause stating that if six members of the committee were against the impeachment, it would be abandoned.

That was a complete heist: the committee option has never existed to override the Senate. ‘By what right’ did anyone propose giving that committee the power to over-ride Senate? By what right did some people assign themselves the position to choose committee members?

If we truly believe we deserve accountability, transparency and good governance, it’s time we abandoned our apparent collective boredom with due process and woke up to the boundaries of people’s assigned powers, with our radar screens set for those who pre-empt, move around, or thwart democracy and good governance with matters as simple as order paper control.

It’s a trick I still remember seeing for the first time working in one organisation where an individual had assigned themselves control of every meeting agenda. We had to ask permission to put things on the agenda and would frequently be told it wasn’t possible.

We would then also be denied the chance to raise matters under ‘any other business’ because we hadn’t got them put onto the agenda and no extenuating circumstances of timeliness or time-capping existed that would mean they could be considered under any other business.

It was an excruciating means of control that prevented all movement forwards, because nothing could ever be discussed, and thus it could never be approved, or implemented.

So, rather than the organisation deciding what moved and how, that one, single individual drawing up the meeting agenda controlled the entire business.

So next time you get presented with a fully-fledged motion without a discussion or piece of case building anywhere to be seen, find out where it came from and how and by what right, and get your power back to be a part of the decision-making, as the requirement on you to vote demands.

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