Kenya: MPs Could Become New Centres of Power in Proposed Law Changes

26 October 2020

The proposed constitutional amendments contained in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report have created new centres of power that could alter Kenya's political landscape and shape the 2022 election campaigns, analysts have predicted.

With the prospect of being nominated to the executive either as prime minister, deputy prime minister or cabinet minister, the position of member of parliament in the National Assembly becomes a highly attractive prospect for those seeking elective posts, including governors who have run their two constitutional terms in office and want to remain politically active.

That makes the post of National Assembly MP a new seat of power that is likely to be among the most hotly contested. President Uhuru Kenyatta today launches the BBI proposals at the Bomas of Kenya, setting off a series of political processes that could culminate in a referendum.

"The fact that cabinet ministers will be picked among MPs will make the parliamentary position very competitive and attractive because it is both legislative and executive," said Prof Hezron Mogambi, a lecturer and researcher at the University of Nairobi. He argues that the MP who will be appointed to the Cabinet will become powerful due to the control that they will have over the sharing of national resources.

New positions

Political analysts hold that the creation of new positions of authority and strengthening of others is intended to ease the passing of the BBI proposals by dangling carrots to political elite and grassroots politicians.

The National Assembly becomes a much more powerful institution as politicians will want to either have a say in the appointment of the prime minister and his deputies, or have a chance to rise to the cabinet where they play a central role in running the country.

Presidential race winners and losers will have key interest in aligning their troops in the National Assembly, which will have an expanded role in running affairs of the country. The Prime Minister will be the leader of government business in the National Assembly.

The PM will oversee the legislative agenda in the National Assembly on behalf of the government and supervise the execution of the functions of ministries and government departments. He will also chair cabinet committee meetings as assigned by the President. The deputy prime ministers will also automatically become members of the cabinet.

2010 Constitution

Unlike the 2010 Constitution, the BBI proposes the office of the leader of official opposition in parliament, who will hold the government to account.

The Leader of Official Opposition, according to the document, will be the person who receives the second-greatest number of votes in a presidential election and whose political party or coalition of parties has at least twenty-five percent of all the members of the National Assembly.

The holder of the office will play a key role in keeping the government of the day in check. In other jurisdictions, the Leader of Official Opposition has a secretariat as well as auditors to ensure critical, informed oversight of the government.

Prof Mogambi argues that the BBI proposals make the governor and deputy governor positions more attractive by significantly increasing the resources under their control from 15 percent to at least 35 percent of the last audited annual national revenue.

"If the Governors are going to get at least 35 percent of resources, this is more than double what they are getting now. Within the county their clout increases. Within the region, their political clout increases and at the national level they are going to be mini-Presidents," argues Prof Mogambi. The control of resources, he argues, means "cut-throat competition for the seats is expected."

He says the recommendation that members of the county assemblies take charge of the proposed Ward Development Fund also makes the position of member of county assembly (MCA) more attractive and a new seat of power at the grassroots.

Securing nomination slot

With the proposal that nominees to county assemblies shall have to first contest in the polls, many Kenyans are expected to plunge into the polls with an aim of either winning or securing a nomination slot. Deputy governors, who have previously complained of being powerless, will now have portfolios in the executive structure of the county governments.

The BBI proposes an amendment to the County Governments Act 2012 that seeks to force governors to assign their deputies departments in the county executive, similar to portfolios assigned to other members of the County Executive Committee.

Former Kisumu Deputy Governor Ruth Odinga says the proposal to give deputy governors portfolios is a good idea "but is not enough as it will still not enhance their authority."

"Deputy governors should have positions of authority. If the governor is executing duties in the county, the deputy should be in charge of, for instance, the service delivery unit to ensure the governor's vision in the manifesto is actualised," Ms Odinga said in an interview.

She said the proposal to appoint a deputy governor from the opposite gender as running mate should be clearly worded to ensure that such appointments are not merely based on personal relationships.

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