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Senator Haji, Kenya is under the rule of law not rule of men

For weeks, the Senate has been in the news “for all the wrong reasons,” as an excellent parliamentary reporter might write. Wahesh have been unable to agree on the revenue sharing formula for the counties.

The matter came to a boil last Monday, August 17. No, the drama started on Sunday night when “it emerged” that police officers were hunting down certain senators. The officers had reportedly descended on the Nairobi homes of the legislators to arrest them.

Senators Cleophas Malala (Kakamega), Christopher Langa’t (Bomet) and Steve Lelegwe (Samburu) were alleged to have committed offences in their counties. They were unable to make it to the Senate for a special sitting on the deadlocked revenue sharing formula debate.

The senators were arrested and spirited away to their counties to record statements with the police.

The Senate turned into a theatre of confrontation as Wahesh demanded the freedom of their colleagues or no business would be transacted. Speaker Kenneth Lusaka ordered that Interior CS Fred Matiang’i, Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai and the Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti appear before the Senate Security Committee to explain the arrest of the senators.

The committee met the government officials on Wednesday, August 19. Journalists who turned up to cover the event were thrown out.

“What are you doing here?” Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji, who chairs the committee, asked TV crews who had arrived early to set up for live broadcast, the People Daily reported.

“I don’t remember calling you. Get out and we shall call you when we need you,” Haji told the reporters. He asked parliamentary orderlies to get the journalists out and not to allow any media to access the premises.

Now, Haji is a senior, long-serving politician in Kenya. He knows the law. But he chose to ignore it to exercise personal power. His attitude and behaviour make him unfit to hold public office.

The Constitution guarantees media freedom. Parliament draws its authority from the people and all its work is of public interest. Citizens pay for the work.

Article 118 of the Constitution deals with public access to Parliament. It stipulates that, “Parliament shall conduct its business in an open manner, and its sitting and those of its committees shall be open to the public.”

Specifically, the Constitution demands that, “Parliament may not exclude the public, or any media, from any sitting unless in exceptional circumstances the relevant Speaker has determined that there are justifiable reasons for the exclusion.”

Haji did not tell the reporters that Speaker Lusaka had determined that they should be excluded from the Security Committee meeting and on what grounds. It was Haji’s decision in violation of the Constitution.

A committee chair has no powers to exclude the media from its sittings.

A number of senators rushed to the defence of the media. “I am shocked that the Senate Committee on Security chased the media from a sitting inquiring the illegal arrest of senators. If the committee cannot stand up for colleagues, institution of Senate and democracy, then something is really rotten in the state of Kenya,” Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen said.

Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr said the public has a right to know the details of the arrest and detention of the three senators.

Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei wrote: “Decision by Senate committee of National Security to kick out media during grilling of CS Fred Matiang’i, IG and DCI over arrests of senators Langat, Lelegwe and Malala is retrogressive and illegal.”

The Media Council of Kenya in a strongly worded statement condemned the action stating: “The treatment meted out on journalists by the committees chair Hon Yusuf Haji, the Senator for Garissa, was not only unacceptable but representative of a worrying trend where journalists in the course of duty are barrred from crucial proceedings of legislative bodies both at national and county levels, without justifiable reasons.”

Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka owes the media and Kenyans an explanation about Senator Haji’s shameful disregard of the Constitution. Lusaka ought to explain who is in charge of the Senate. It is either Kenya is under the rule of law or the rule of men.

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