The traditional reading of the Kenyan annual budget in June is in limbo even as Parliament navigates to proceed with sittings amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
The coronavirus outbreak has also affected the annual calendars for learning institutions, parliament, county assemblies and sports.
This unexpected interference could see postponement of calendars for schools, parliamentary sessions and the sport season to recover the time lost.
COVID-19 impact on parliamentary calendar
The Coronavirus pandemic has threatened parliament’s sessions at a crucial time of budget-making ahead of the reading in June with other East African Community nations. This interference has compelled National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi to develop precautionary guidelines to curb the spread of COVID-19 among MPs for the House to proceed with sittings.
“Once seated in the Chamber, Members shall not change seats or draw closer to other Members, the Speaker or Clerks-at-the-Table for whatever reason,” Muturi said in the gazetted measures. This was after postponing the sittings due to the Coronavirus outbreak in the country.
The guidelines bar MPs aged above 58 years from attending the sessions to protect them from COVID-19 following reports that old persons are more vulnerable to the virus. Only 53 lawmakers out of 349 whose application to attend the sitting were approved by the Clerk were allowed in the Chamber. This is in adherence to the social distancing regulations to ensure the MPs safety. Other additional members whose applications were approved, will be waiting in designated lounges in the parliament building to replace some in the Chamber.
Top of the list of the MPs deliberations are President Uhuru Kenyatta’s tax relief interventions announced recently to help Kenyans and the economy during the pandemic. “All members present will be allowed to vote. The division bell will be rang and members in designated areas will be allowed in the Chamber to vote,” National Assembly Clerk Michael Sialai told the press.
Expectant legislators and those with medical conditions have also been barred from the sittings. Kenya has so far recorded more than 200 coronavirus cases, nine deaths and more than 40 people recovering since the novel virus was reported in the country mid-March.
Although the National Assembly has resumed its sittings, it is unclear how the Budget and Appropriations Committee is going to deliberate on the budget estimates for the next financial year since Muturi has restricted the committee meetings to matters linked to COVID-19 pandemic.
“Given the limited committee rooms and sitting spaces, committees are dissuaded from sitting, except those considering matters or proposals aimed at actualizing measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic,” Muturi said.
The Budget and Appropriations Committee chaired by Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichungwa has been scrutinizing the 2020-21 budget estimates presented to Parliament by the National Treasury through the Budget Policy Statement 2020.
The measures include that the committees meetings are to be held virtually but after approval by the Speaker on agendas to be discussed.
Failure or the delay in reading the 2020-2021 budget in June puts various government ministries, departments and counties at risk of encountering a serious financial cash crunch.
The strict budget making timelines in Kenya can be accessed via https://roggkenya.org/areas-for-media-coverage-in-good-governance-and-corruption-in-kenya/kenya-county-budget-making/timeline-of-budget-making/
Impact on school calendar
The 2020 school calendar in Kenya has been affected just like others around the world. This follows the indefinite closure of learning institutions. The Education ministry through a circular dated February 12 issued the 2020 calendar, outlining distinct dates and crucial activities such as examinations for schools and colleges.
The 14-week first term for primary and secondary schools was slated for January 6 to April 9 while the second term was scheduled for May 4 to August 7.
The Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha confirmed on Monday, 13 April 2020, at a press briefing that there is nothing to worry about, because learners had only lost three weeks since schools were closed. “We should be worrying on when to control this virus than when schools should reopen. I’m happy because our children are safe at home,” said Magoha.
The Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) candidates were supposed to sit the national examination between October 26 and October 29. Their secondary counterparts were to sit for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination between November 2 and November 25.
The Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET) and the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) have been pressuring the Education ministry to postpone this year’s national examinations.
However, Magoha said that it’s too early to talk about postponing the exams. He also stated that schools will reopen “when time is ripe”. “People should have peace because we are working with modalities. If and when time comes, we will be telling you whether exams will be postponed. We’re not going to risk the lives of our children because dead people do not take exams,” said Magoha .
The disruption to school calendar will see university students expected to complete school this year wait until next year in addition to delay in sitting and releasing results for primary and secondary school candidates.
COVID-19 impact on 2020 sporting activities
The virus has seen the postponement of national and international sporting competitions to 2021.This includes the 2020 Olympic Games, which were scheduled for July 24 to August 9 in Japan.
Bodies in charge of various sporting events such as the Kenya Premier League (KPL) and Football Kenya Federation Cup whose 2019-20 season was to end in May, 2020, will be forced to extend their calendars.
Several football clubs are optimistic that the 2019-20 sporting season will be completed at least towards the end of June, if the virus is contained.
The World Indoor Championships slated for March 13 to 15 in China where Kenyan athletes were to participate was cancelled. Another casualty is the Magical Kenya Open European Tour, the golfing event scheduled for March 12 to 15 at Karen Country Club in Nairobi.
The indefinite shutdown of sporting action has put sporting community in a difficult situation because they have lost their income. Some teams are staring at the risk of going bankrupt.
Other sporting competitions affected include the Paralympic Games scheduled for August 24 to September 9 in Tokyo, Japan and World Rally Championship (Safari Rally) scheduled on July 19 in Kenya.
The Africa Senior Athletics Championships in June in Algeria ,the AFCON Qualifiers between Kenya and the Comoros Island in August 31 at Kasarani Stadium, Nairobi, are also among continental sporting events the virus has impacted.
What journalists should do:
- Examine all sectors in the country and their annual calendar of activities. Find out how they are affected and how they are coping.
- Highlight planned activities on a tight calendar or not affected by the Coronavirus.
- Explain to the public the effects of postponements in sports, education, parliament and the impact on their lives.
By Samuel Kisika