Kenya: Experts Advise MPs on Safe Sittings to Curb Virus Spread

The Directorate of Public Health wants parliament to source for an alternative venue if the two Houses have to hold sittings that will be attended by all members.

The department has further asked the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) to ensure that the two Houses conduct committee meetings online to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The recommendations came as National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi assented to a request by Majority Leader Aden Duale for a special sitting to consider emergency measures to facilitate the fight against the spread of the virus.

The House will hold a special sitting on Wednesday, where among things they will debate over Tax Laws Amendments Bill, 2020, the 2019/20 Supplementary Budget estimates and the Covid-19 Emergency Fund Regulations.

The directorate is proposing that parliament should utilise digital technologies, such as Zoom and Skype.

"In case the two Houses want to separately have full sittings, they are advised to source for alternative venues which will accommodate the members without compromising the social distancing requirement," the report, dated March 30, 2020, says.

SOCIAL DISTANCING

The National Assembly and Senate chambers, and the mini chamber at County Hall, committee rooms, kitchen, dining hall and lounges were assessed.

They found that their capacity cannot accommodate all the MPs, their aides and parliamentary staff.

The report recommends that the National Assembly chamber can only accommodate 66 people in line with the social distancing requirement.

The House has a total of 349 elected MPs. There are other support staff - clerks, sergeants-at-arms and ICT crews - who facilitate the live TV coverage. This means that at any particular moment there are about 380 people.

The report recommends that only 60 MPs, the Speaker, one table clerk instead of the usual three, and one sergeant-at-arms should attend a sitting.

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The Senate has 67 lawmakers and one speaker. Now the number should be capped at 34: 28 senators, the speaker, one clerk and one sergeant-at-arms.

"The Speaker's and public galleries should not be occupied by anyone except the two media staff and two ICT personnel," the report states.

The main Parliament Buildings is provided with artificial ventilation by means of extractors that blow in purified air under the seats and extract contaminated air at the roof tops, but the report warns that controlled extraction of air in both chambers must not be set below 26 degrees because temperatures below that offer conducive environment for the virus to thrive.

Committee rooms seven, nine and 12 - which usually host the Public Accounts Committee and Public Investment Committee - can only be occupied by nine people.

All National Assembly committees, except, the Budget and Appropriations, have a membership of 19, meaning there will be challenges in MPs holding committee meetings.

Committee rooms in Continental House can accommodate 10 people, while none of the committee rooms in Protection House are suitable to hold committee meetings.

The team recommends that MPs and staff who have underlying health conditions be encouraged to work from home.

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