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MPs, Senators doing more legislative work than giving handouts, driving big cars

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Last week, I narrated how I met some farmers in Lamu at the county commissioner’s office who petitioned me to intervene for their land compensation in Parliament. They had been displaced following the repossession of their land by the government for the construction of the Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor project. My editor challenged me to write a little bit more and give this subject more weight – reflecting on the roles of an MP.

After being sworn in as MPs, our first agenda was to agitate for a negotiation of our salaries and other privilege’s, because the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) had on March 1, 2013, gazetted the entitlements of a MP, which were significantly lower than that of 10th Parliament. What followed was three months of push and pull, with the media covering it extensively, civil society activists joined in and brought pigs and piglets outside Parliament to protest the demand by MPs.

At last an agreement was struck and the matter settled through protracted negotiations that had the President and Deputy President come into the debacle. I think the common definition of an MP by the public is “Simply a walking ATM”. This is typified by the fact that the moment they see him or her, the second thing after acknowledgement by the name is pecuniary matters, either directly by way of asking for handouts or by making demands from school fees payments, hospital bills, rent, roads, dowry, weddings expenses, among others.

A persistent request is usually that of a job placement. Kenyans still believe in a country characterised by the big man mentality/syndrome that MPs can use their patronage to get them jobs. This is interestingly agitated for a competitive recruitment, while at the same time demanding ethnic and regional balance in appointing public officers. I imagine also that the image of an MP to Kenyans is someone who drives big cars, has a house in posh suburb and is wealthy. This image is enhanced during campaigns period where political aspirants spend a life-time savings in quest to woo voters.

The public doesn’t seem to understand that this is usually a contest and it doesn’t necessarily mean that MPs have the money stashed everywhere. They also don’t seem to understand that the cars we drive and the houses we live in, are procured as part of employees benefits like any other entity that provides facilities for its workers. Nevertheless, what are the roles of an MP? To begin with, I represent special interest groups, persons with disabilities. I live with albinism, a youth and an Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) member. Other parliamentarians represent the county as Women MPs or a constituency.

The roles of an MP are legislation, oversight, representation, budget making, defence of the Constitution, parliamentary diplomacy and nurturing other upcoming leaders. The roles of a law maker are clear, however, this is the most technical part of a parliamentarian as one has to go through bills presented before the House from the First Reading, the Second Reading, analysing the bills and the various committee stages of the House, at the committee of the whole House level and finally at the Third reading.

This process involves a lot of reading and requires lots of knowledge and insight. In fact, Parliament is usually evaluated by the number of bills passed into law. Last year, the National Assembly passed 22 bills while the Senate passed four bills. However, there were more than 100 legislative proposals by the time Parliament went into recess in December last year. Some of the key legislations that were passed included the Division of Revenue Bill, the first in the country’s history. The law saw the allocation of Sh210 billion to the counties.

The Senate, on the other hand, passed the inaugural County Allocation of Revenue bill that distributed the funds among counties. We passed the Elections Financing Bill that seeks to regulate the amount of funding that a candidate or a political party can use in an election. This bill was significant in that it outlined the manner in which elections are to be funded thereby increasing the chance for previously disadvantaged groups to have a fair chance of being elected – organisation’s are elbowed to support candidates but disclose and report such support through to the IEBC three months after the General Elections.

It also required that the political parties disclose their sources of finances and that foreign governments and entities are not allowed to directly or indirectly fund candidates in an election. Another key legislation that was introduced was the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act that sought to galvanise how the sector would be governed in dealing with issues such as human-wildlife conflict and enhancing compensation on loss of property or life.

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