Monday, May 13, 2013

Let MPs inject decorum in their disagreements

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 12 May 2013

The past couple of weeks have not been particularly encouraging for those Kenyans who look up to our elected representatives for leadership. Members of Parliament have been raucously demanding salary increments while threatening the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) with disbandment if its members do not accede to their demands. One even went as far as calling the Kenyan voter “a greedy thief”.
The MPs have also engaged in vigorous disagreements on the floor of the House, trading insults and engaging in tantrums that do not serve to move debate forward. This culminated in a walkout by the parliamentary minority, arguing that they were not being accorded a fair hearing by the Speaker of the National Assembly. The bone of contention centred on the composition and leadership of key watchdog committees.
It is important to remind our politicians that there are young people in this country who look up to (at least some) them as role models. The youth are imbibing leadership lessons from their elected leaders, and as they transition into leadership positions themselves, they are likely to model their behaviour on those they have observed on the national stage.
Live broadcast of parliamentary proceedings dominate evening news on all television channels, resulting in children and young adults being fed on a staple of conflict and uncouth behaviour at the apex of the legislative arm of government. Additionally, the audience for our disgraceful parliamentary show has now gone international due to our TV stations’ online presence.
I do not think that any of the MPs shown on TV uttering unprintable stuff would be comfortable watching the resulting coverage in the evening with their own children and relatives. One wonders why they would then subject Kenyans to that kind of tripe and expect to retain the respect of even the most indulgent among us.
There are civilised ways of solving disputes among leaders in any society. On the matter of salaries, our MPs have been advised that if they feel aggrieved by the SRC decision, they should seek redress in court. Should it turn out that the Commission broke the law in reducing their salaries and perks, the courts have the power to reverse the decision and appropriately compensate the MPs.
Fulminating on the floor of Parliament and making threats will obviously not solve the problem.
The disagreement on the leadership and composition of parliamentary watchdog committees is much easier to resolve, in my view. In a presidential system of government, any relationship between the party in charge of the Executive and that in charge of the Legislature is purely accidental. 
Situations will arise where the same party forms the parliamentary majority and also produces the president of the republic, but this is not always the case. In a future election, Kenyans may elect a president from one political formation while giving a parliamentary majority to an opposing group. In the event that the minority controls watchdog committees after that election, the same conundrum will arise.
In my view, the parliamentary minority should strategise to improve their parliamentary strength and develop strategies to effectively check the Eexecutive both within and outside Parliament.
But overall, my plea to parliamentarians is that they need to go about their business with a little more decorum, even if they disagree on principle.
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and a senior lecturer at the Moi University’s School of Medicine.; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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