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04 - 11 May 2005 
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Long on Words, Short on Action

A recent report by the Institute of Civic Affairs and Development (ICAD) rated the performance of Kenyan MPs based on their contributions as recorded in the Hansard. The report revealed that only 15 MPs actively participated in House business and that some earned a whole year’s salary having neither contributed to parliamentary debate nor asked questions on behalf of their voters. A majority made technical appearances. We sought the views of Jacob Wanalo, a Bachelor of Arts graduate who works as a researcher. Excerpts


QUESTION: What is your take on this report?

ANSWER: The MPs know that they are under scrutiny. It also shows the electorate what their representatives are doing. I was saddened to watch MPs dead asleep during House proceedings in full glare of TV cameras.


Q: Dou you think the report was substantial?

A: The speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Francis ole Kaparo, rubbished it as full of inaccuracies. He described the authors as idlers speaking from positions of ignorance, out to disparage the House and bring it disrepute through unwarranted attacks. It is true that opinion polls can be manipulated to release tailored data, but can he deny the fact that the august House members have been documented sleeping?


Q: So, do you support his views?

A: To a large extent, yes. The report praised those who have been talking and castigated the silent. I don’t think we need a nation of talkers. We need a nation of implementers. Silence is sometimes honorable for one who is silent can be reckoned among the wise. Haven’t you heard the old saying that action speaks louder than words? I’m afraid were breeding a nation of talkers and empty debes (tins).


Q: What do you mean?

A: We should not focus on talking but quality and productive participation. Where has all the past talking taken us? We were told that within the first 100 days of NARC in power, the country would adopt a new constitution. Has it happened? Teachers were told that they would receive their proposed full salaries. Did it happen? We have repeatedly been told about the government commitment to zero tolerance of corruption. Isn’t corruption still rife even among those who have spoken? We have preached peace and security but still harbor armies. We say security has improved but people continue to be shot dead, mugged, robbed etc.


Q: You sound quite bitter and resigned.

A: Why not? God gave us two feet, hands and a mouth. Our speed should match our actions. We should speak less and do more.


Q: How will the House business run if MPs were to remain silent?

A: Remember I asked where their talking has led us. What they talk matters. Is it quality? If it isn’t, they better shut up. Why did God give them two ears? To listen more to what those who elected them are saying but they don’t listen and that’s why we are in the current mess.


Q: What mess?

A: The mess of empty and unproductive rhetoric. We say that Agriculture is the backbone of this nation but do we live to this? Our agricultural shows have turned into trade fairs – showing the height from which we have fallen. How come we have very few agricultural extension officers? Why do the few available dilly-dally in their offices and complain of lack of fuel to take them to the farmers? How come we can’t pin our activities on the global weather forecast that spans to 2020? Why did we kill Kenya Meat Commission?  Compare tourism and agriculture, what earns the nation more money? What are we doing with the farmer in Eastern Province who depends on rain-fed agriculture but has no access to dams or boreholes and perpetually depends on government food relief? What is better, relief food or a water source?


Q: In summary, can you outline other areas in which talking has produced bad results?

A: The free primary school education, though noble, is sliding the country into slavery of debt. The country can’t sustain it without outside help. Its emphasis on numbers has led to lack of learning in schools hence producing a semi-illiterate and ignorant generation. We keep on praising it when facts on the ground show its has a negative bearing on the economy and social fiber.

People continue to die of malaria while our pledge to stop malaria still produces black smoke. We are shy to adopt the use of DDT that has served in many other places.  We are committed to produce 500,000 jobs per year yet mechanisms in place such as the minimum wage laws, high taxation, long bureaucracy in registering a business and corruption inhibit this.


Q: What is your advice to MPs?

A: Parliament proceedings should be run like a business and if no profit is being realized, there should be no subsidy but replacing the non-working parts. It is immoral to get paid for no quality work done. This precedent will breed a nation of people living off others’ sweat. Legislators should be accountable to the electorate.


Q: What else?

A: We need an MP who will speak in the name of taxpayers and as a taxpayer himself, who shall say to the house: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, fight among yourselves over power, all I seek to do is restrain it; wrangle over how to manipulate the budget, all I wish to do is reduce it.’ He will be scorned but if taxpayers let him down, sooner or later the will discover they have let themselves down.




By Josephat Juma
Mr. Juma is an African Executive Writer

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