Parliament under partial lockdown as offices shut

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020 00:00 |
Parliament in session. Photo/PD/FILE

Parliament has been placed under partial lock down in a move aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 among members and staff.

The decision by National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi will also allow for fumigation and decontamination of the entire Parliament buildings and MPs’ offices.

The move comes at a time when a number of politicians have been fingered for engaging in reckless behaviour and showing little regard to the various measures put in place to curb the spread of coronavirus within the general population.

This even as the country recorded 418 new infections yesterday, raising the tally to 13,771 since the virus was first confirmed on March 13.

In a move that has grounded the business of key parliamentary offices, Muturi banned committees from holding physical meetings except those “urgent and sanctioned” by his office and instead directed MPs to embrace virtual deliberations as practicable as possible.

“I hereby further direct that all committees’ sittings are suspended until Tuesday July 28.

Thereafter, committees will only operate virtually as per guidance above,” Muturi said in a communication dated July 15, 2020.

“Arrangements should, therefore, be made for full virtual proceedings of committees before resumption,” he added, directing that no physical meetings are to be held without complying with the Ministry of Health guidelines and his direct authority. 

According to the Speaker, the precautionary measures are aimed at minimising chances of new infections among the parliamentary fraternity. Muturi also directed MPs and parliamentary staff to undergo voluntary testing.

In case anyone had come into contact with a positive case or suspected positive case, Muturi advised that they should self-isolate according to the Ministry of Health guidelines and immediately notify the Speaker’s office.

But it is a communication by National Assembly Clerk Michael Sialai on Friday asking all Parliament staff to stay away for at least seven days that has raised eyebrows that Coronavirus had hit the breadth and width of its workforce.

“Officers are advised to work from home as from today July 17, 2020 until July 28,  except those in the office of the Clerk and designated officers from the Sergeant-At-Arms department,” Sialai said in a memo dated July 17, and copied to all heads of departments in the National Assembly.

Remains closed

“All other offices will remain closed including MPs’ offices within Parliament. You are, therefore, required to advise all officers working under you accordingly,” he added. 

 By copy of this memo, the Chief Sergeant-At-Arms is required to develop a duty rota for officers who will be in office to liaise with the service provider undertaking the fumigation and decontamination and supervise the exercise,” the Clerk directed.

Multiple sources who spoke in confidence said the decision to down-size Parliament’s operations and ask its staff to work from home was arrived at after tens of employees, MPs’ Personal Assistants (PAs) including drivers and security officers tested positive for Coronavirus.

According to the source, three individuals who had tested positive were among hundreds of parliamentary staff whose samples were taken during voluntary testing jointly carry out by the Ministry of Health and Parliament.

The ministry had set up two centres, one at the main Parliament Building on the Senate side and the other near the main gate on the National Assembly side.

For the duration of the exercise, MPs and staff were encouraged to undertake the voluntary tests and more importantly, to wear face masks whenever in public.

This comes amid fears that more drivers, PAs and bodyguards may have contracted the deadly disease, forcing some legislators to retest and reconfirm results of their staff at various health facilities in the city.

For instance, a prominent first time lawmaker, known for his flamboyance and generosity had to take his PA and bodyguard for at least three more tests at Nairobi Hospital, Aga Khan Hospital and Kenyatta National Hospital.

During the contact tracing last week, the source said, at least 15 other persons were found to have been infected with the disease and have since been advised to self-isolate at home.

Among the worst hit departments is the Accounts section and Bunge Sacco premises accommodated at Protection House, which also houses Human Resource, Procurement, Legal services and Mileage claims offices.

Protection House is also home to Parliamentary Joint Services (PJS) headed by Clement Nyandere and also houses the offices of Assistant and Principal clerks of both the Senate and the National Assembly.

“Protection House was sealed off last week after two staff from Bunge Sacco and one from the Accounts and Finance sections tested positive for the disease,” the source who is not allowed to speak to the media said yesterday.

“Protection House is the nerve sector of operations of both the National Assembly and the Senate; by virtue of this, it brings together different persons from all walks of life,” the source added, insisting that closing the building was meant to protect MPs, staff and visitors.

In his earlier communication to the House, Speaker Muturi said Parliament had taken steps to ensure safety of parliamentary fraternity.

“Following the declaration of the Coronavirus as a global pandemic, we took several measures to help in combating the spread of the virus in Parliament specifically, and in the country in general,” the Speaker said on June 30 in response to media reports of alleged cases of Covid-19 within Parliament.

According to Muturi, some of the measures included the limiting the number of MPs accessing the chamber at any one time, the designation of holding areas for members, adoption of virtual sittings for committees where applicable as well as working from home.

Muturi, who also chairs the Procedure and House rules Committee noted that the House had also amended its rules of procedure to allow virtual sittings.

“These are progressive measures for which we continue to implement for the safety of all.

I am aware that the procurement process for an appropriate technological system for fully virtual proceeding is ongoing and will be concluded in due course.”

On alleged cases of Covid-19 in Parliament, Muturi noted that by June 30, “far from the speculations” information available to the Office of Speaker indicated that, “we have two cases of the virus that have been reported among Members of Parliament.”

According to him, one of the affected members had been treated and discharged after testing negative. 

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