Sunday, July 24, 2011

A modest proposal on women’s representation

Sunday Nation 24 July 2011

Last week, a lobby representing women’s interests presented the Interim Independent Electoral Commission with a proposal to guarantee that the constitutional caveat against any elective or appointive body having more than two thirds representation from one gender is respected.

The commission seemed to have given the proposal a sympathetic ear, and it is possible the proposal will be implemented in some form or other ahead of the next General Election.

The formula is intended to force some constituencies, on a “rotational basis”, to vote for women to ensure the constitutional requirement is met for the National Assembly and Senate.
While the idea of women’s empowerment is welcome and long overdue, the way we are going about it is all wrong.

The assumptions being made about the Kenyan voter are insulting at best, and disenfranchising at worst. The worst of these is that we cannot wilfully elect a female candidate when presented with an opportunity to do so.

The proportion of elected women in Parliament has been rising since independence when there were none up to the present time when 7.6 per cent of elected MPs are women.

Between 1997 and 2007, the proportion of elected women MPs quadrupled from 1.9 per cent to the current 7.6 per cent. More women are expected to vie and be elected next year due to the overall increased gender awareness and other equality requirements enshrined in the Constitution.

Article 93 of the Constitution establishes the Parliament of Kenya, consisting of the National Assembly and the Senate. For all intents and purposes, this is one body with the primary functions, as enumerated in Article 94, of making laws, representing the people and protecting the Constitution, among others.

For the purposes of calculating proportions of representation, this arm of government may be considered as a whole, instead of unnecessarily concentrating on the constituent parts. Parliament, therefore, would consist of 337 elected members (290 in the National Assembly and 47 in the Senate).

Another 79 members would be nominated as set out in Articles 97 and 98, and the speakers of the two houses would bring the total number to 418.

Without using the disenfranchising model proposed by the women’s lobby, how is it possible to fulfil the constitutional requirement that the National Assembly should not be dominated by over two thirds of one gender?

The first step would be to reserve all discretionary nominations for the “minority” gender in Parliament.

Assuming that this would be women, they would get a total of 77 seats reserved for them (59 in the National Assembly and 18 in the Senate). If we were to also reserve the positions of speaker of both houses for women, the number of female MPs would be 79 even before considering the elected ones.

The number needed to prevent a greater than two thirds majority for one gender would be 140 (just over a third of 418), meaning that Kenyans would only need to elect at least 61 women MPs out of the total 337 to meet the constitutional minimum.

Here, then, is the challenge: Is our political scene so barren that we cannot elect 61 women to Parliament in 2012?

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why I should also be exempted from paying tax

Sunday Nation 17 July 2011

In my relatively short working life, I have lately come to the conclusion, just like our legislators, that paying tax is an irritant I can best do without. I would, therefore, like to request the government to exempt me from paying tax; and below are five of my best reasons.

One, I come from a poor family. Due to the suffering I went through as a child when my family scrimped and saved (and paid taxes) in order to ensure I went to school and finally entered a profession, I hold that it is the government’s responsibility to exempt me and my family from taxation. This will enable us to compete on an equal footing with the offspring of wealthy Kenyans who had a head-start in life.

Few hours of sleep

Two, I work very hard! In my line of work, I hardly manage a few hours of sleep before I have to rush to work and save a few more lives. I think it is tempting fate to insist on paying me peanuts, and then bringing all your sick and suffering to me for succour. I should be adequately compensated for the work I do, and unless my income is increased by a factor of 10, I think it is dangerous for the government to continue taxing my meagre pay so heavily. Something will have to give.

Poorer relatives

Three, I contribute to the upkeep of my poorer relatives. I think it is the responsibility of government to ensure that its population is well-fed, secure, sheltered, clothed and generally satisfied with their lives. Since the government has neglected this important responsibility in respect of my clansmen and women, I have taken it upon myself to take care of their needs. It is, therefore, grossly unfair for government to continue taxing my income while expecting me to continue carrying its burden. This amounts to double taxation.

Four, I contribute to the funeral and wedding expenses of my friends and relatives. I attend numerous harambees, and contribute as much as I can afford of my after-tax income. The government should ensure that I am adequately compensated for this function, which once again falls squarely under the mandate of the Treasury.

Five, I simply cannot afford to pay tax. I have several mortgages running concurrently, and a few projects back in the village that I need to complete within the next few months.

Lifetime goals

Paying tax has proved to be a major impediment to the achievement of my lifetime goals, and I demand that the government exempts me and my family from its taxation regime, at least until I retire from my current job.

Since Article 41 of the Constitution guarantees me the right to fair labour practices, fair remuneration and reasonable working conditions, I would contend that I qualify to enjoy tax-free pay and perks.

Of course every right comes with responsibilities. In the event that the government accedes to my demands, I make the following promises.

I will not avail myself of anything paid for by the tax-paying majority. I will not demand sitting allowances to do the work I am paid to do. I will always pay for my transportation, and will take my children to private schools and universities.

Finally, I will not seek to occupy any public office.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Somebody must pay for state involvement in ICC

Sunday Nation 10 July 2011

Last week the government filed yet another application at the International Criminal Court (ICC), arguing that they are actively investigating the post-election violence suspects, with special reference to the so-called Ocampo Six.

This is only the latest in a series of farcical filings by our government since the beginning of the ICC investigation.

Right from the outset, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo made it clear that his cases targeted individuals in and outside government who were judged to bear the greatest responsibility in the chaos that followed the 2007 General Election.

At no point was the government, at least as currently constituted, held liable collectively for the atrocities.

It was, therefore, baffling for our government, which had sworn to co-operate in ensuring justice for the PEV survivors, to initiate a process of shuttle diplomacy aimed at scuttling the only effort at justice that had the greatest probability of success under the circumstances.

It was very clear from the beginning that the mood of the people was against any government interference with the ICC process, and legal opinion was unanimous that the efforts were doomed to fail.

The fact that the missions went ahead, and spectacularly failed even after coming before the United Nations Security Council, is an early sign that the impunity of the old regime is yet to wear off.

In curing this nascent disease, it is imperative that those involved in that decision face the full force of the law, and additionally be made to refund the monies spent in the ill-fated attempts at scuttling justice for our nation.

Failure to do this will entrench a culture of disregard for public opinion and welfare, which should be the goal of every responsible government.

It would have been bad enough had the government stopped at the failed shuttle diplomacy and allowed the rest of the process to go on to its logical conclusion.

Unfortunately, the government embarked on another strategy in its assault on justice. The outgoing Attorney-General went ahead and hired foreign lawyers to represent the Government of Kenya at the ICC, even though the government is clearly not a party to the cases before the ICC.

International community

Despite the numerous failures of the AG’s hired counsel at The Hague, our government continues to file badly drafted and poorly constructed non-defences at the ICC, all only serving to put all Kenyans to shame in the eyes of the international community.

It is once again my considered opinion that those who continue to waste public resources in this manner must be brought to book, and made to repay the “lost” amounts from their own sources.

Not once has anyone heard the gentlemen facing ICC trials ask for government assistance or defence in their individual cases. All six have hired top-notch lawyers to defend them and, so far, they seem to be satisfied with their services.

At whose instance is the Government of Kenya acting? Whose interests are the Queen’s Counsel hired by the AG serving?

Have the monies being spent on the government’s Hague efforts (and the shuttle diplomacy) been scrutinised and passed by the people’s representatives in Parliament?

Kenyans must ask these hard questions of this Grand Coalition, or risk wasting resources chasing after the wind.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Let the family of dead student mourn in peace

Sunday Nation 03 July 2011

This past week there has been a furore over the death of a university student along Waiyaki Way after attending a party in a posh Nairobi suburb.

The circumstances surrounding her death were murky, and there were even suggestions that she may have been killed and dumped on the road by some malevolent individuals.

While death is never an easy matter, and suspicious death is doubly tragic, it is possible that this particular death was poorly handled by many of those concerned.

While it is expected that we shall all join in a chorus and condemn the Police Force for bungling the investigation, it is my considered view that, in this case, the police may have very little to answer for.

The larger share of blame lies in the public handling of the matter; and the media cannot escape blame for fanning the flames that may have interfered with fruitful police investigations.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described the stages of death, which may also be modified to describe the reactions to the death of a loved one, as shock and denial followed by anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance.

Whenever a person dies suddenly, it is usual for close friends and family to enter into a stage of denial, where they initially doubt even the fact of the death itself. It is of course difficult to accept the death of a person who only a short while before was full of life.

Period of anger

This stage is followed by a period of anger, during which the bereaved may lash out indiscriminately at all those around them.

There will be accusations against the friends who were with the deceased, and why they did nothing to prevent the death; there will be anger at the authorities for the slow pace of investigations; there will be anger at the deceased for making the choices they made that may have led to their death; and finally, there may even be anger at God and the powers that be, for allowing such a young life to be snuffed out so tragically.

All these reactions are normal. What is not normal, however, is for the media and the public at large to get involved so intimately in this process of mourning. In this particular case, everyone was rushing to weigh in with their opinion, and engaging in expert analysis of events that they were not even remotely involved in.

The speculation created an atmosphere of so much uncertainty that no one was ready to let go and allow themselves to accept the situation and move on with life.

It is conceivable that some family members and friends have been able to overcome their anger, and moved through the stage of bargaining to one of despondence and depression. In these stages they need support to deal with their emotions, instead of getting more scenarios and theories about their loved one’s death.

Give them space

In order to help the family and friends to enter the stage of acceptance, it may be useful for the rest of us to give them space to grieve and mourn in private.

The media, especially, must refrain from encouraging continuing conspiracy theories to run wild, when they know for sure that if the police will not unravel the mystery surrounding this student’s death, then no one else in this country ever will.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine