From how the media report on Members of Parliament it seems that there is a lot of misunderstanding about their role. What takes prominence is the constant and never ending wars between the National Assembly and the Senate. Other sensational stories include those of MPs in the National Assembly being portrayed as greedy and self-centred due to the huge salaries and allowances they take home every month. This new article on RoGGKenya provides a better understanding of the roles of the National Assembly and the Functions of the Members of Parliament (MPs) in the National Assembly.
The National Assembly is one of the two arms or chambers of parliament, the other being the Senate.
The role of the National Assembly and in extension the role of a Member of Parliament is to be found in Article 95 of the Kenyan Constitution.
From how media report on Members of Parliament it seems that there is a lot of misunderstanding about their role. (See below.)
The Role of the National Assembly
Representing the people
- The National Assembly represents the people of the constituencies and their special interests in the National Assembly.
- The National Assembly also deliberates on and resolves issues of concern to the people.
Legislation and Oversight
- Role of the National Assembly in Public Finance The National Assembly determines the allocation of national revenue between the levels of government (the national and the county governments). This process is known as the Division of Revenue and is guided by Article 217 and Article 218 of the Constitution. This is a joint function between the National Assembly and the Senate.
- First, the National Assembly deliberates on a resolution by the Senate on the revenue sharing formula for the money it allocates jointly with the Senate to the County Governments. Within ten days after the Senate adopts the resolution, the Speaker of the Senate should refer the resolution to the Speaker of the National Assembly. The National Assembly may then consider and vote on the resolution within 60 days. Read more on the process in Article 217 of the constitution.
- Secondly, the National Assembly takes part in the division of revenue between the national and the county governments through the Division of Revenue Bill. The National Treasury Cabinet Secretary tables the Division of Revenue Bill before the National Assembly. The National Assembly then deliberates on the Bill, which divides revenue raised by the national government among the national and county levels of government. The Bill later passes to the Senate. If both houses do not agree on the Bill, they form a mediation committee from members of both houses in accordance with Article 113 of the Constitution.
- Thirdly, the National Assembly appropriates funds for expenditure by the national government and other national State organs. The national assembly allocates money for the national government ministries, departments and agencies, commissions and independent bodies alike. The National Assembly performs this function through the budget where it determines the amount that goes to each of these organs and bodies. It can allocate or reallocate money for each of these bodies or organs to ensure equity in resource sharing. In performing the the above roles, the National Assembly is guided by the Budget and Appropriations Committee.
- The National Assembly also exercises oversight over national revenue and its expenditure. The National Assembly has the power to summon national government officials including ministers and public officers to answer to questions on government expenditure Article 125 of the Constitution. The National Assembly is guided by its committees when performing this role, especially the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Investments Committee.
- On oversight, the National Assembly adopts reports on government expenditure from independent offices such as the Auditor General and the Controller of Budget. It then uses the reports as a basis to summon government officials to provide answers on government expenditure and to provide recommendations to address the issues identified during oversight.
2. Role of the National Assembly in Legislation
- The National Assembly should consider and debate bills that do not concern counties Article 11o of the Constitution. (It is the role of the Senate to debate and amend the bills concerning counties.) The laws that do not concern the counties laws should be laws that are in line with the national government functions stipulated in Schedule Four.
- But having said this: The National Assembly also has a role to play in bills concerning counties. These are special bills and ordinary bills. A special bill relates to the election of members of a county assembly or a county executive or the annual County Allocation of Revenue Bill referred to in Article 218.
- An ordinary bill concerning the counties can originate from the National Assembly or the Senate. The National Assembly can also amend or veto a special bill that has been passed by the Senate by a resolution supported by at least two-thirds of the members of the Assembly.
- The National Assembly should also receive petitions from the public and act on them accordingly Article 119 of the Constitution. The process to petition the National Assembly to consider any matter under its authority (including to enact, amend or repeal any legislation) is contained in the Petitions to Parliament (Procedure) Act 2012.
Reviewing the Conduct of State Officers and oversight of state organs
- The National Assembly reviews the conduct in office of the President, the Deputy President and other State officers and initiates the process of removing them from office. The other state officers include cabinet secretaries, judges and members of commissions and independent bodies.
- The National Assembly exercises oversight of state organs. The National Assembly ensures that the state organs operate within the law and do not infringe on the independence of the other organs, including performing functions that belong to another organ (separation of powers).
Declaration of War and State of Emergency
The National Assembly approves declarations of war and extensions of states of emergency. The president as the commander-in-chief is the only one mandated with the authority to declare war. However, the president must seek the approval of the National Assembly before declaring war. The same applies to extending the state of emergency.
Role of Committees in the National Assembly
All work of the National Assembly is prepared and guided by Committees that are in charge of specific sectors of the state. Therefore, if media scrutinize the work of an MP it is advisable to see which committees he is sitting in and what he has done there. A member of the committee for agriculture for example should be an expert in this and be able to answer questions regarding the oversight in this field, whereas the actual implementation of policies still lies on the Ministry of Agriculture in the National Government.
To get an overview over the committees, see their pages on the parliament website.
Role of MPs in their constituencies
In many cases the track record of an MP is being judged by others (including media) according to the “development record” he has in bringing benefits to his constituency. This is wrong. The MP is not in charge of bringing benefits or infrastructure. It is the national and the county government who are in charge. An MP can only oversee this process on behalf of his constituency and demand what his constituency should get.
The MP can also mobilize residents from his or her constituency to identify priorities that are most important to them under the funtions performed by the national government in Schedule Four of the constitution and forward them to the government for review and inclusion in the planning process.
Role of MPs in the (NG-) Community Development Fund
Even the (NG-)CDF, the (National Government) Constituencies Development Fund plays a limited role for the development record of an MP. The CDF budgets receive only 2.5 percent of the state’s income, whereas the bulk of expenditure for roads, health, education, agriculture and so on is governed by the national government and the county governments. MPs have some say in the expenditure of the NG-CDF in his constituency. But if the rule of law is followed they do not have the final word and can in no way boast with or be accused of the track record of “their” CDF alone.