Should we scrap the Senate in Kenya? Several calls in recent times want the House done away with, claiming that it is irrelevant and ineffective. The Senate in Kenya is one of the Chambers of the bicameral parliament in Kenya. The Senate has 47 elected and 20 nominated Members of Parliament.
The Constitution sets aside 16 special seats for women in the Senate. Their nomination occurs based on the number of elective seats each political party or coalition has in the House. The other four seats are for the youth and persons with disability. A pair of a man and a woman fills these four seats respectively.
People wonder which, between the Senate and the National Assembly is more powerful. The Constitution is unclear on which of the two houses is superior. However, based on the functions both houses perform, the differences stand out. The National Assembly performs more functions than the Senate.
Therefore, the National Assembly is superior to the Senate. This is not de jure (by law) but de facto (by practice). The National Assembly has a wider portfolio and makes important rules that relate to the national government. The Senate’s portfolio largely involves the counties and the county governments.
The role of the Senate in Kenya
The functions of the Senate in Kenya largely relate to the Counties and to laws that touch on the Counties. Despite that, it has a crucial role to play in the sphere of politics and governance. Therefore, calls to scrap the Senate are mere dog barks that no one should take seriously.
The Senate in Kenya derives its legislative authority from the people of the Republic of Kenya. It manifests the diversity of the nation, represents the will of the people, and exercises their sovereignty. It should protect the Constitution and promote the democratic governance of the Republic. (Article 94).
Article 96 of the constitution stipulates the functions of the Senate. These functions relate to
- considering, debating and approving bills concerning Counties;
- determining the allocation of national revenue that goes to the Counties
- exercising oversight authority over the national revenue allocated to the County Governments
- exercising oversight over State Officers. It considers and determines any resolution to remove the President or the Deputy President from office.
In essence, the Senate in Kenya plays a collective role of representing the counties. It should protect the interests of the counties and their governments.
Why we should not scrap the Senate in Kenya
The most important function that the Senate performs involves revenue sharing. It ensures that the National Assembly does not shortchange counties by denying them enough funds. In doing so, the amount of revenue allocated to the counties has continued to rise every financial year.
The Senate has played a crucial role in determining the amount of money that goes to the counties (equitable share). This is the money that counties receive from the revenue raised nationally by the national government.
Responsibility for expenditure of public resources
After the counties spend the equitable share, the Senate has to ensure that the expenditure is prudent. Therefore, it has to keep the county governments accountable to enhance transparency and fiscal discipline. It performs that role by adopting and acting on reports from the Controller of Budget and the Auditor General. These reports relate to county revenue expenditure.
As a result, the Senate has issued summons to governors and other county official. The purpose of the summons is to provide information or evidence on revenue expenditure. (Article 125).
Making laws that are important to counties
The Senate also formulates laws that are crucial to the counties. Most of the other Bills concerning Counties sponsored by various (nominated) Senators are still pending. Majority are between the first and third reading. Others are pending before the National Assembly.
Some of the Bills before the Senate include the:
- Public Participation Bill, 2016;
- County Pension Scheme Bill, 2016;
- Coconut Industry Development Bill, 2016; and
- The Reproductive Healthcare Bill 2014.
Ensuring integrity of public office
In determining the impeachment of the President and his Deputy, the Senate in Kenya follows:
- Article 145 of the Constitution; and
- Standing Order No. 66 and 67 of the Senate.
In addition, it determines the removal of Governors from office as part of its oversight role:
- in accordance with Article 181 of the Constitution;
- Section 33 of the County Governments Act; and
- Standing Order No. 68 of the Senate.
What the Senate needs
Consequently, the Senate in Kenya is a very important legislative body. Doing away with it will leave the counties at their deathbed. It will be a big rollback to the gains made by the advent of devolved governance.
The Senate is the apex of devolution and only a national referendum can determine its demise. That caveat is a crucial safeguard to ensure that it performs its functions without undue external influences.
The Senate needs to realize its importance and stop operating below par. It needs to benefit the counties and sustain public confidence. The current crop of Senators has watered down the Senate. It has gained a notorious reputation of Nyumba ya Wazee (House for retirees). Therefore, what we need is a stronger Senate that can perform its capacity effectively and efficiently.
Lastly, the fact that many Senators want to become governors does not mean that the house is ineffective. Many are just going where the money is. The Senators are the only MPs without a fund to patronize. They are always fighting for oversight funds that they cannot control as per the law.