By Martin Mutua and Caroline Mango
Outraged by perpetual quorum hitch in Parliament and a less than impressive performance by the Government side, President Kibaki summoned Cabinet ministers and their assistants for a dressing down.
The meeting at State House, Nairobi, came after crushing defeats of Government in Parliament on important Bills, with huge political implications for the President.
Ordinarily, Thursday is a day for the President to meet the Cabinet to review and briefing on Government programmes.
But the meeting, which also saw the presence of Assistant ministers, was an extraordinary session at which a disappointed Head of State is said to have tongue-lashed his ministers as he cited their poor performance in the House.
Sources told The Standard that the President appeared to have been incensed by the defeat of a Government Bill and an adjournment Motion in a single week, due to poor attendance of Cabinet ministers.
Last week, the Opposition ganged up with some Government backbenchers to defeat a Constitutional Amendment Bill, in which Justice minister Martha Karua sought to increase parliamentary seats by 40 and create an additional 50 special seats for women.
Members, particularly women MPs and those from the Government side, are said to have, prior to the debate, put pressure on Karua to step down the Bill to allow for consultations. But the Justice minister is said to have stood her ground.
The Bill was of a constitutional nature and, therefore, required a two-thirds majority of MPs to sail through.
When the Bill came up for debate, there were about 80 MPs in the House, with most ministers and their assistants giving it a wide berth. Consequently, the Bill was thrown out since the Standing Orders demand that there be at least 145 members present to physically vote.
The same week, the MPs again defeated an Adjournment Motion that had been moved by the Leader of Government Business and Vice-President, Mr Moody Awori, after both the Opposition and Government backbenchers ganged up, blurring the line between Government and Opposition and defeating the principle of collective responsibility for ministers.
President rejected MPs Sh3 million gratuity
Legislators are said to have been angered by the Government move to seek adjournment yet they had demanded to have the Statute Law Miscellaneous Amendment Bill brought to the House for debate.
The Bill, which came up for debate in Parliament on Thursday, was seen as being used by MPs to blackmail the Government after it provided for a gratuity of Sh1.5 million for each MP, far lower than the Sh6 million proposed earlier.
On Thursday, sources at the State House meeting told The Standard that the President was unhappy with persistent quorum hitches in the House resulting in failure to pass Government Bills.
The sources said the President told the ministers and Assistant ministers that it was their responsibility to be in the House to ensure there was quorum and therefore that Government Bills sailed through.
The President reportedly told the ministers to work as a team and temporarily suspend other engagements to attend all sessions to ensure that the Government did not lose again.
Sources said the President expressed concern that some ministers deliberately avoided Parliament when crucial Bills come up for debate.
“The President was not happy and he told us that we had let him down before Kenyans who expected us to deliver as a Government,” said a source.
The President rejected members’ demands to have them paid Sh3 million each as gratuity, but agreed to their getting Sh1.5 million as had been recommended by the Cockar report, said the source.
The President is said to have told the ministers that he was ready to work with all political parties.
The sources said the Head of State told them that if political parties worked in harmony, there was no doubt he would be re-elected.
No snap elections
The sources further said the President assured his ministers that the life of the current Parliament would go to the full term and that the polls will be held in December and, therefore, there was need for them to carry on with House business.
Earlier, several ministers cancelled, postponed or delegated their other engagements to be at State House for the meeting.
Cabinet minister, Dr Noah Wekesa, who was attending an official function in Kisumu, had to return to Nairobi to attend Parliament after he was told what transpired at the meeting.
“I have to rush to Nairobi and attend Parliament proceedings this afternoon,” said the Science and Technology minister.
Meanwhile, First Lady Mrs Lucy Kibaki has hit out at MPs over the persistent lack of quorum.
She said that the quorum hitches had seriously hindered House business leading to a backlog of pending Bills.
“This is a very serious affair. The country has never seen MPs who stayed away from the Chambers before like is the case today,” she observed, adding: “Some of us were disappointed on that day”.
She blamed the death of the Bill seeking to set aside 50 special seats for women on male MPs who walked out of the Chambers.
She dismissed as flimsy excuse claims that the Bill was not properly brought before the House. She said those saying that the seats were meant for women in Nairobi were wrong “because the MPs were to debate and decide how the seats were to be distributed”.
The First Lady was speaking at Ukia Girls Secondary School in Kaiti Constituency on the occasion of the Anglican Church of Kenya Mothers Union Annual Conference.
Present were local MP Mr Gedion Ndambuki, Manpower Development Assistant Minister Ms Adelina Mwau, ACK Machakos Bishop Joseph Kanuku and Makueni DC Mr James Mwaura.
Mrs Kibaki said the Ninth Parliament had frustrated President Kibaki’s efforts to put the Affirmative Action in place.