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Media got it wrong on ‘exclusion’ of Parliament in new privatisation law

President William Ruto signed the Privatisation Bill, 2023 into law on October 9, in Kisumu City.

The public broadcaster KBC Channel 1 TV reported that, “Under the law, the Privatisation Commission has been replaced by the Privatisation Authority that will henceforth oversee the privatisation process. The new law further gives the Cabinet Secretary powers to generate a privatisation programme that will be approved by the Cabinet for the entity to be offloaded to the private sector by the government.”

Does Parliament have a role under the new law? “Privatisation law strips Parliament of oversight role in sale of state corporations,” a Standard headline stated.

Mombasa Road followed up this story with an editorial on October 11 that said, “The new law effectively takes the oversight role in privatisation of state corporations away from Parliament. Those powers have, instead, been given to the Treasury Cabinet Secretary.”

The editors concluded weepily that, “Now that Parliament’s oversight role has been removed, we can only rely on the benevolence of the government to ensure that the sale of public property is transparent and devoid of sleight of hand.”

Citizen TV reported that the law “paves way for establishment of a Privatisation Authority that will handle privatisation, departing from the past where parliamentary approval was required before any state corporation could be sold.”

The next day the station opened its 9pm prime-time newscast with the privatisation story. It reported that even as implementation of the law starts, “opposition leaders continue to cast doubt over the planned privatisation programme terming it as state capture due to lack of parliamentary oversight.”

“As regards due process, it locks out Parliament from the process and gives ultimate power to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance [Treasury], which is open to a lot of abuse, is open to corruption,” Odhiambo Ramogi, CEO of Elim Capital, told our very own Aby Agina of CNBC Africa TV.

“Parliament excluded in privatisation of state assets as Ruto assents new Bill”, the Star reported. “Privatisation Act seeks to allow the Treasury to exclude Parliament from approving the sale of state-owned firms in changes aimed at shortening the approval process for the sale of government assets.”

In a separate explainer, Lion Place reported that, “Under the Bill [Act], the Cabinet Secretary will be responsible for formulating the privatisation programme which shall be approved by the Cabinet. The National Assembly will ratify the programme, while its implementation will be undertaken by the Privatisation Authority.”

Confusing, isn’t it? Did the journalists reporting on the signing of this new law actually read it? What is the truth about Parliament’s role in privatisation of parastatals?

A report of the Finance and Planning Committee on the Privatisation Bill presented to the National Assembly on August 24, 2023, states as follows:

“Clause 21 of the Bill provides that upon approval of the privatisation programme by the Cabinet, the Cabinet Secretary shall submit the approved privatisation programme to Parliament for ratification before implementation of the programme. Parliament has been given 60 days to consider the privatisation programme and ratify it or refuse to ratify it.”

“Clause 22 of the Bill provides that the privatisation programme ratified under section 21 shall be published in the Kenya Gazette.”

The chairman of the Finance and Planning Committee is Molo MP Kuria Kimani. “I call out the inaccurate reporting by some media houses regarding the Privatisation Act, 2023, just assented by HE President Dr William Ruto EGH,” the MP said in a statement on October 10.

Contrary to media reports, the role of Parliament has been reinforced in the new law, he said. Section 22 (1) of the law provides for ratification of the privatisation programme by Parliament. And section 22 (3) gives the National Assembly 60 days to consider, approve or reject part or the entire programme.

Now, where did some reporters and their editors get this strange idea that Parliament can be “locked out”, “excluded” from oversighting any public process, or “stripped” of its role? That’s its inalienable constitutional mandate.

“Is it that the editors in our media houses have no ability to comprehend basic legislation or they are just downright malicious?” Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot asked on X.

No, we don’t believe editors are unable to comprehend basic legislation or are malicious. It’s laxity.

See you next week!

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