Parliamentary committees have assumed very critical roles in the legislative process under the current Constitution. Unlike before, when the President, Vice-President and Cabinet ministers were elected MPs and participated in parliamentary proceedings, these are now excluded from that role.
The relationship between the Executive and Legislature has shifted dramatically with the Leader of Majority in Parliament taking charge of government business in the House.
Subsequently, committees have become the platforms where matters affecting respective ministries are addressed and channelled to Parliament. Departmental committees are, therefore, responsible for interrogating issues within their docket and eventually presenting them to the House for deliberation and ratification.
They play a key role in vetting and approving public appointments, itself another creature of the current Constitution which emphasises public participation in national matters.
So much work, therefore, takes place at the committee stage. And this is the reason they have to be assessed to determine if they are truly living to their expanded mandate. This explains the reason Parliament organised a major conference this week for all its committees to provide a platform for them to examine and reflect on their mandates and ways and means of achieving them.
There are areas of public concern. For instance, the committees have been faulted for poor vetting of State appointees; approving individuals without qualifications and credentials to key positions — purely to please the political leadership. So whereas the vetting was intended to filter and select the best, characters of dubious character and weak academic credentials get State jobs.
Similarly, committees have on several occasions failed to veto poorly conceived programmes from ministries either due to ignorance or vested interests.
But the worst is corruption, which is rife within the committees, where for example, public figures who ought to be censured for transgressions are sheltered after cutting deals and unqualified people land jobs they do not deserve.
In addition, the committees suffer poor attendance of sessions, forcing Speaker Justin Muturi to threaten to punish the culprits.
Some members only dash in to sign the attendance sheet to get allowances but hardly participate in the deliberations. MPs have also become notorious for making useless trips abroad under the guise of experience sharing yet there are no outcomes from them.
Committees need to be strengthened and staffed with qualified people. Convening the forum is, therefore, an important step towards redressing their weaknesses and anomalies.
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