Debate rages on quantity, quality representation

Friday, August 28th, 2020 00:00 |
Parliament in session. Photo/PD/FILE

Eric Wainaina @EWainaina

Ballooning wage bills, failure by some lawmakers to live to expectations as well as the wanting performance by some representatives in Parliament and counties, have emerged as key factors driving the question of over-representation in the country.

Alleged greed, laziness, incompetence and the high number of leadership posts created by the Constitution compared to the United States of America, India and China have given impetus to the push for the review of the supreme law, to reduce electoral units and abolish some positions to save costs and increase value.

While some leaders and lobby groups want Senate, Woman’s Rep and Nominated MP posts abolished and constituencies scaled downwards, others mostly from populous regions are demanding that their regions be split, to increase the number of electoral units for equal representation.  

Economic muscle

With a President, deputy, Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries, Chief Administrative Secretaries, 67 senators, 349 MPs, 47 governors and their deputies, about 1,000 county ministers and Chief Officers, 47 county speakers and 2,122 MCAs including 772 nominated pocketing 1,000 per cent more than defunct councillors, Kenya is considered costly and over-represented.

Suspended Thirdway Alliance party leader Ekuru Aukot, who was among the brains behind the Constitution, says Kenyans are about 400 per cent over-represented considering the number of representatives, population and economic muscle since elected leaders are highly remunerated.  

“We still need representation but we also need to address the question of over-representation because it comes with cost on struggling Kenyans,” he says.

Aukot adds: “What is the value of our MPs today? They miss sessions. They go to committees, sign and leave because it is all about allowances.

Representation has become a business where MPs get car allowances, house mortgage and salaries to perfrm what they have already been paid for; they want a sitting allowance.”

He describes Nominated Members of Parliament and counties as political merchants.

Ongoing clamour

During elections, voters who in the older dispensation voted for President, MP and councillors now add on governor, senator, Woman Rep and MCA whiles women, youth and people living with disabilities are nominated to represent those with special interests and meet two-third rule.

Aukot who is pushing for the review of the law though Punguza Mizigo initiative, says Kenyans should cease the ongoing clamour for constitutional change to reduce number of MPs and senators, reduce electoral units from the current 290 to 100 and abolish nominated positions who se value he says , is not felt.

The former presidential candidate drew parallels with USA which has 350 million people and about 530 representatives, meaning a leader represents about 620, 000 people, India where there are 1.3 billion people and 800 representatives, one official represents 1.166 million people while China and its 1.4 billion people and 1, 200 representatives, the ratio is 1:1.625 million people.

“It does not, therefore, make sense that a population of 46 million from a poor developing country like Kenya would have, and be able to sustain 416 representatives in Parliament.

The cost of this representation has largely contributed to the national wage bill.

enya has much bigger and challenging problems which include, the ballooning national debt, unemployment, need for infrastructure, affordable housing, healthcare, education and food security,” Aukot said.

Last year’s data from the Controller of Budget (CoB) showed that MPs’ earnings increased to Sh14.35 billion in the period to June, up from Sh11.21 billion a year earlier and the lawmakers successfully petitioned the court to freeze Salary and Remuneration Commission pay cuts that targeted top officials.

Another report by CoB showed some MCAs still take home about Sh400,000 per month in salary and allowances each and in the 2019-20 budget, Ward Reps allocated Sh2.55 billion for their sitting allowances, highlighting the high cost involved.

But Suba North MP Millie Odhiambo who rose from a nominated lawmaker to an elected post in 2013 believes Kenyans, based on the recent population census is not over-represented, but acknowledged that the value of some leaders nationally and in counties, is unfelt.

The vocal MP said the argument that reducing the number of lawmakers would have any economic significance doesn’t  make sense, because the cost of maintaining them was negligible, considering the amount of revenue being lost through corruption at both levels of government.

Economic significance

For value, Odhiambo says the National Assembly should increase sessions from the current four which are conducted on Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning and afternoon as well as Thursday in the afternoon, to give the high number of MPs a chance to contribute. 

She says nomination of leaders should be redefined to ensure that only deserving people are nominated.

“We still operate in the old dispensation when we had fewer MPs sitting for three days.

We have a higher number, we should increase the number of parliamentary working days to four so that members can have more time to contribute but not reduce the number of legislators,” the MP says.

She adds:“Nominated MPs are just 12 and therefore, abolishing the posts will not be economically significant.

But we need to rethink how the nomination process is carried out, especially for MCAs, so that we get competent people.

Some have proved themselves but others become voting machines for passing motions.”

Proportional representation

Ruiru MP Ng’ang’a King’ara, whose constituency has 490,120 people is also of the opinion that Kenyans are not over-represented and is rooting for increased electoral areas, arguing that for equity and fairness, his area which is in the category of urban, is under represented and should be divided into three.  

“Constitutionally, an MP is supposed to represent a maximum of 183, 000 people in an urban constituency but in Ruiru, we have a population of over 500, 000 people which is 2.7 times more.

Meaning the people should be represented by three MPs,” Kang’ara says.

The MP adds: “Ruiru is allocated Sh30 million for bursary for 90, 000 learners while another MP gets the same amount for 9, 000 learners.

It means that in Ruiru, one person can only get Sh333 but Sh3, 000 in the other constituency.

In Ruiru, one school has about 4,000 pupils, while  some constituencies have less than 300 pupils yet we get equal amount to develop infrastructure.”

But the topic is also subject of the Building Bridges Initiative  debate where leaders from populous regions have demanded introduction of the proportional representation system to attain equality of the vote by increasing the number of constituencies.

But Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria is on record saying the number of MPs and MCAs should be reduced drastically by scrapping some constituencies and removing nominated posts to save revenue.

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