Friday, September 3, 2010

Constitution: Integrity remains a challenge

Long after the promulgation of the new Constitution in Kenya, the implementation of Chapter Six on leadership and integrity will remain a challenge that will test the seriousness of those charged with the operationalization of the new supreme law. This challenge was accepted by all the leaders as they were celebrating the inauguration of the new Constitution.

At the big celebration on August 27, President Mwai Kibaki was the first to accept that the new Constitution’s leadership code and values made it clear that the people who will present themselves for public or State offices would have to be individuals of integrity, willing to be held accountable by the people and the institutions and laws of our country. That call by the President, was an early warning to all those who, in the past, fought to get leadership positions only for lucrative reasons.

The new Constitution creates very many attractive leadership positions. Among the people who have shown interest in the new positions are well known corrupt politicians. Kenyan MPs who would not serve the country without milking the taxpayers dry are among the first to declare their interests to become future senators and county governors. This time it is not going to be business as usual for them. Before the current crop of leaders occupy the new public offices they will have to prove that they are men and women of high integrity.

The most challenging positions will be those of the 47 Governors who will control huge budgets that must be used to bring about development in all parts of the country. As counties will have the responsibility to give contracts to many service providers, the temptation to engage in corrupt activities will obviously be there. There will be little wonder, therefore, when the positions of governors attract the country’s wealthiest politicians who will only look at the new offices as the geese that lay a lot of golden eggs.

Whereas senatorial positions will be extremely prestigious, they will not be as lucratively attractive as positions of governorships. To get to the Senate, candidates sponsored by the most popular political parties in the counties will stand a better chance of winning than the local tycoons. But very few poor people will win any governorship which will attract people who are already heavyweights financially. The only trouble will be to find any rich individual who has honestly acquired his or her wealth through hard work.

When Mwai Kibaki, therefore, says the new Constitution will ensure current and future leaders entrench integrity and fairness in the just system that will build a world-class public service and promote politics of issue and ideas, only a handful of people who aspire to become senators and governors agree with him. Many of the corrupt leaders wish the President’s words will never come true. The greedy and corrupt politicians will most certainly try to continue occupying leadership positions with the sole purpose of making more money by continuing to milk the poor people.

For the leaders to guarantee that the new Bill of Rights is enforced; and for them to also make sure that a framework is established that makes both the national and county governments work harmoniously, as Mwai Kibaki suggested, the current crop of leadership must undergo a complete metamorphosis. This is as difficult as, to paraphrase Jesus of Nazareth, to expect an elephant to walk through an eye of a needle. It is therefore going to be a real uphill task to hope Kenyan leaders, as Mwai Kibaki expects, will facilitate the success of the Kenyan businesses and industries as well as put in place land ownership and use systems that promote equity and productivity.

Yet Mwai Kibaki was not the only one who sounded these hard hitting warnings during the promulgation of the new Constitution. The Prime Minister did pretty much the same when he urged Kenyans to be vigilant and stop corruption from stealing our future and negative ethnicity from weakening our nationhood. Very much like Mwai Kibaki, Raila asked those in charge of public affairs to make sure that public service becomes what it is supposed to be i.e. public service, but not self service.

According to the Prime Minister this new beginning must mark the end of shallow political partnership and herald the start of mature competition among political parties. What the Prime Minister did not tell the people is the fact that future political parties must themselves undergo yet another metamorphosis.

According to Article 91 of the new Constitution which deals with the basic requirements for political parties, every political party shall have a national character as prescribed by an Act of Parliament which will ensure that all political parties shall have a democratically elected governing body; and shall also promote and uphold national unity while abiding by the democratic principles of good governance which will promote and practise democracy through regular, fair and free elections within the party.

This means the Prime Minister was telling the people that the days of political parties that belonged to corrupt leaders who closed all party doors to their political enemies and opened them only for their sycophants are gone forever. Corruption promoted by tribal political parties will also have to disappear because the new Constitution demands that all political parties must respect the right of all persons to participate in the political process, including minorities and marginalized groups.

The new Constitution demands all political parties to respect and promote human rights, fundamental freedoms, and gender equality and equity while subscribing to and observing the code of conduct for political parties. All these requirements by the new Constitution mean only one thing— that there will be very little room in future party leadership for people who are either corrupt or intend to get into leadership positions through corruption in order to enrich themselves.

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga are not the only leaders who called for the promotion of integrity while operationalising the new Constitution. Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka said more or less the same thing when he told Kenyans at Uhuru Park that under the new Constitutional order, we will be able to reclaim our dignity as a people. He said justice would be guaranteed for all and leaders would be accountable to the people.

As Mwai Kibaki , Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka were talking about the need to follow the new Constitution’s demands on leadership and integrity , Parliament was challenged to put the Kenyan leaders’ words into practice by refusing to swear in MPs who had pending cases on corruption in court . The suggestion came in a form a question to the Speaker of the National Assembly from the MP for Ikolomani, Dr. Bonny Khaluale.

The Speaker of the National Assembly, Kenneth Marende, answered Khaluale through a Communication from the Chair when he told MPs that Chapter Six of the new Constitution which addresses matters of leadership and integrity was in fact operational after the promulgation of the new Constitution. He explained that, the importance of Chapter Six could not be overemphasized. According to the Speaker this chapter was a key pillar to the new constitutional order seeking to uproot the culture of impunity and bad governance.

Marende said the Chapter sought to ensure that only persons of integrity assented to or remained in certain public offices. It, therefore, was very much in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Constitution that questions should be raised on the application of the provisions of Chapter Six. In respect of concerns about the eligibility to be sworn in of Members who have cases pending in court, Mr. Marende ruled that there was no provision in the Constitution barring a state officer from being sworn in on the grounds that the State officer had a pending court case.

The Speaker then went ahead and swore in all MPs including those with pending corruption cases in court. Be that as it may that was not the end of matter. The issue of leadership and integrity will be a subject of many hot debates in future. When the right judges have taken up their positions in a clean Bench many of our leader’s right to lead will rightfully be challenged according to the new Constitution.

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