Parliament is currently discussing proposals to amend its rules of procedure (the Standing Orders) to align its functions with the new Constitution and also prepare the ground for the two-tier Parliament after the next General Election.
For example, there are proposals seeking to have the Cabinet Secretary in charge of Finance to table a Budget Policy Statement on or before February 15 every year. The Statement is a three-year economic focus, with details on the current state of the economic, the macro-economic and fiscal policies, revenue targets, and the debt portfolio from external sources and domestic market. The deadline for the scrutiny of the Budget Policy Statement by the House Budget and Appropriations Committee will be shifted from April 15 to March 7 of every year, if Parliament adopts the proposals. The Judiciary and Parliament will also have their annual budgets undergo House scrutiny. All departments and arms of Government will then submit their annual budgets to Parliament (not later than April 30). The budgets will, within 21 days, be scrutinised by the relevant departmental committees. The new rules allow House committees to alter allocations, ensuring that the national Budget meets the current and recurrent expenditures that financial year.
b) Election of Speaker
There are also suggestions that those seeking election as the Speaker be proposed by at least 50 MPs – instead of the current two. A candidate for the Speaker requires the votes of at least twothirds of all MPs. Unlike the old practice, MPs will be sworn in first before they elect the Speaker. There is also a proposal to have all MPs take oath at one go or collectively in order to save time. The number of MPs in the National Assembly is set to increase from the current 224 to 350 after the next General Election. The proposed changes to the Standing Orders scrap the position of the Leader of Government Business that is currently held by the Vice-President. It will be replaced by the Leader of Majority Party; the person heading the party with most members in Parliament. The Leader of the Minority Party (i.e. the person heading the party with the second number of MPs) will consult with the Leader of Majority Party and the Speaker to handle all crucial matters on the welfare of Parliament.
There is also a suggestion to have the regular sessions of Parliament begin on the second Tuesday of March. The Question Time – during which MPs used to seek information from ministers on behalf of the public and non-parliamentary entities – will be scrapped because Cabinet Secretaries (ministers) will not be attending Parliament after the next General Election. However, a session called Statement Hour every Thursday at 3 pm will be introduced when Cabinet Secretaries will attend the House to respond to specific issues. The House Business Committee will be chaired by the Leader of the Majority Party; with enhanced membership from the current 15 and 21 to 19 and 25.
c) Digital voting
There is also a suggestion to have MPs in the next National Assembly vote electronically where there is a dispute over oral voting/acclamation. The new voting system has three buttons: for “Yes”, “No”, and “abstain” with a slot for the card. The card has a magnetic stripe encoded with an MP’s particulars, including the name, constituency, party and other details. The results will show on the Speaker’s indicator board, and the Speaker will announce them at the end of the voting. The Speaker has the power to order members to manual voting whenever there is a technical glitch during voting.
d) Public participation
The Constitution makes it mandatory for Parliament — at both the county and national levels — to facilitate public participation and involvement in its legislative and other businesses. Parliament can exclude the public, or any media, from any sitting only in exceptional circumstances determined by the Speaker. And even in a case where Parliament initiates a Bill to amend the Constitution, that document must be circulated to solicit the views of the people. These requirements on utmost openness and public consultations and participation in matters of governance seek to fulfill the demands of the new Constitution. They firm the social contract between leaders and the people. Indeed, the new Constitution, celebrated the world over for having a broad and people-friendly Bill of Rights, is largely seen in Kenya as the ultimate provider of good tidings in all spheres of public life: political, economic and social.