MPs now protest Uhuru incessant memorandums
By Mercy Mwai and Anthony Mwangi
The National Assembly was yesterday forced to adjourn its sittings after members kept off for the second day running protesting the incessant memorandums sent by President Uhuru Kenyatta overturning bills passed by Parliament.
In particular, MPs were unhappy with Uhuru for refusal to accent to the Interest Rates Capping in the Finance Bill, 2019 as passed by the House.
There was open discontent yesterday when members walked out of the Chambers immediately Temporary Speaker and Luanda MP Chris Omulele took the seat. They refused to recommence sitting even after the quorum bell rang for the mandatory 10 minutes.
“We were expressing our anger over Tuesday’s vote on the presidential memo which removed a cap on commercial banks lending rates paving way for banks to charge interest rates as they so wish,” said a member who sought anonymity.
Meanwhile, as the MPs protest continued to cripple House sittings, claims of a meeting convened by National Treasury officials to push for the passage of the motion to remove public debt have emerged.
The alleged meeting took place days ahead of the motion to remove the public debt cap by amending the Public Finance Management (PFM) regulations to allow the government to increase the ceiling to Sh9 tr from the current Sh6tr.
According to MPs who attended the meeting but sought anonymity, projects in their respective constituencies would stall unless they backed the motion.
Yesterday, Wajir Woman Rep Fatuma Gedi, who had been said to have been one of the MPs in attendance at the Treasury meeting, dissociated herself from her colleagues “wheeler dealings”.
“I was not involved in any transactions and I am not President Uhuru Kenyatta’s spanner girl. It is pure lies because I cannot go against the wishes of majority of Kenyans,” she said.
And yesterday, the morning sitting was adjourned at exactly 10.35am, one hour and five minutes after it had commenced.
President Uhuru has in the past refused to assent to key bills even after MPs had passed them. Key among those he declined to sign into law was the VAT amendment Bill contained in the Finance Bill of 2018.
President Uhuru proposed to cut by a half the 16 per cent VAT imposed on petroleum products, then announced a raft of austerity measures expected to save the government Sh52.6 billion that financial year by returning the Bill with a memo for consideration. He said the Finance Bill 2018 fell short of acceptable threshold as it only protected the status quo and sacrificed the bigger vision.
Uhuru also declined to sign into law changes to the Insurance Act that allowed brokers and agents to continue receiving cash from policyholders on behalf of insurers.
MPs had approved the Bill that allowed brokers to receive premiums but forward the cash to insurers within 14 days.
Last year, the President also returned the Parliamentary Service Bill, 2018 that sought to enhance the perks that members of Parliament get.
A President’s memo automatically become law after MPs fail to revise the Bill to include his views. They can only defeat it, if they raise a quorum of two thirds majority— 233 MPs— which has been a tall order. And this is the source of their frustrations. MPs say they feel frustrated by the President’s disregard to their legislation work.
“The President has given himself the role of law making, we are just rubber stamps,” said another MP who asked not to be named. But later, Muturi moved to quell the claims MPs that they were not given time to lobby internally with a view to garner the threshold necessary to vote to reject the President’s reservations on the said Bill.
Muturi said the members had enough time since October 29 when the Finance Committee tabled its report on the president’s reservations to engage each other.
He said those making the remarks were misleading the public as the biometric register and the electronic log-in system indicated that not less than 270 members were present at that sitting though they came at different times which was quorum enough to overturn the president’s memorandum.
He, however, said despite the high numbers, by the time he was ascertaining the threshold to make a decision on the Memorandum, there were only 161 members present, a move which denied them the requisite number to overturn the memorandum.
“It is, therefore, untrue and incorrect that Members did not have sufficient time to lobby internally with a view to garner the threshold necessary to vote so as to reject the President’s reservations on the said Bill, if that was what the House desired,” he said.
He added: “I, therefore, find it to be absolutely inaccurate for a Member of this House or even the public to claim that there was no sufficient notice regarding the Sitting in which the House would consider the President’s reservations on the Finance Bill, 2019.” Muturi told MPs that the President’s memorandum was passed as per the provisions of the Constitution.
Yesterday’s adjournment motion came barely an hour into the parliamentary business for the morning sitting. There are two sittings on Wednesdays.
Efforts by Omulele to have the sittings continue did not materialise as the MPs failed to raise the requisite 50 members’ quorum for a sitting to take place despite him ordering the quorum bell to be rang for close to 20 minutes to remind members to enter the Chambers.
Interestingly, even the few members who were present in the Chamber would be seen walking out heading straight to the Lounge to take tea with fellow members.
The Constitution and the Standing Orders provide that at least 50 members must be present in the Chamber for any parliamentary business to be transacted.
Omulele adjourned the House after Tharaka Nithi County Woman Representative Beatrice Nkatha alerted him that there was no quorum for business to be transacted.
She said: “Mr Speaker I rise on standing order to alert you that the house has no adequate quorum to continue transacting business.”
The adjournment of the sittings came after when the vote on the memorandum was taken on Tuesday, Muturi was also forced to adjourn the sittings early after MPs staged a walkout immediately the memorandum was passed by the house.
The repeal of the law Tuesday happened after the legislators failed to marshall the numbers to veto President Uhuru Kenyatta’s reservations on the Finance Bill, 2019, which effectively amended section 33 B of the Banking Act, signaling the return of expensive loans.