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‘MPs get three months to pass 21 reform laws’ was the front page headline of the Daily Nation the day after President Kibaki opened Parliament. The Standard, a few days later, said it was ‘25 pieces of legislation’ by August. Both newspapers were, of course, referring to the legislation needed to enact the new constitution. Whatever the figures, there’s obviously a lot to be done in a short space of time.
Now Parliament hasn’t exactly got a good track record in passing legislation unless it entails increasing their salaries and expenses, or raising the amount of Constituency Development Funds to be handed to, well, themselves.
Meanwhile, the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution has warned, in their quarterly report to President Kibaki, that some politicians and political institutions are mounting resistance to the changes and trying to undermine the new constitution.
The timescale and weight of legislation problem was however dismissed by Ms Millie Odhiambo, the vice-chairperson of Parliament’s Oversight Commission on the Implementation of the Constitution. “We can do it in half the time”, she declared, “if we put politics aside for a short time”, and she added, “At the Justice Committee we can discuss and finalise one Bill in an hour. Ten Bills would only take ten hours to finish”.
Heaven help us. You may be on the Oversight Commission Ms Odhiambo but that last comment reveals a hell of an oversight. Please take note…
The delivery of the promise that is the new constitution is not directly in the Constitution itself. As a document it is riddled with inconsistencies and more particularly with inadequate drafting that would allow unscrupulous politicians and the state machinery to drive a tank through some of the gaps in the clauses and ignore others. The strength of the new constitution lies more in the spirit enshrined in the draft and that spirit will only turned into a reality by effective (note the word ‘effective’, Ms Odhiambo) legislation.
The Forum fully accepts that Parliament must crack on with the work in hand but it urges politicians and the Kenyan people alike to take heed. If the legislation attendant to the new constitution is not properly scrutinised (more effectively so than the draft constitution itself was) we will run the serious risk of celebrating in haste and repenting later, and for much longer, at our leisure.