Senate under the New Constitution
Fair. Assertive. Wise
The Senate of the Republic of Kenya forms one of the two Houses (or Chambers) of the Parliament of the Republic of Kenya. Thus, it is a National legislative assembly. It draws its existence and authority from the concept of devolution under the Constitution of Kenya 2010.
The key mandate of the Senate of the Republic of Kenya is to safeguard and promote the interests of the units of devolution known as Counties. Hence the Senate must endeavour to influence national laws and revenue amounts that touch on Counties as well as the relationships and frameworks of cooperation between the Counties and the National Government and State Organs.
The Senate consists of 67 members and a Speaker. Of the sixty-seven, 47 of them are directly elected by the voters of the Counties at the General Elections. Political Parties nominate 16 Women Senators to represent the women of Kenya, another 2 (a man and a woman) to represent the youth of Kenya, and one man and one woman to represent all persons with disabilities. Senators from the same County have a combined vote of one in the House.
On the 27th of August 2010, by way of a referendum, the people of Kenya adopted a New Constitution replacing the 1963 independence Constitution. The New Constitution provides for a total of 47 administrative Counties (as listed in the First Schedule of the New Constitution), under a limited devolved system of government. Each of these Counties elects a Senator to the Senate to represent its interests. Thus, the idea for an Uppper House is a direct result of the devolution of National executive and legislative authority to the 47 Counties.
It should be remembered that this is not the first time that Kenya has had a Senate. The First Senate at independence existed for four years during which time it had little influence on legislative and executive governance, and was consequently scrapped in January of 1967 and Kenya became a unicameral state.
Up to and until the General Elections were held in March 2013, the functions of the Senate were exercised by the then National Assembly (also known as the 10th Parliament). Excerpts from the Sixth Schedule - Transitional and Consequential Provisions:
10. The National Assembly existing immediately before the effective date shall continue as the National Assembly for the purposes of this Constitution for its unexpired term.
11. (1) Until the first Senate has been elected under this Constitution— (a) the functions of the Senate shall be exercised by the National Assembly; and (b) any function or power that is required to be performed or exercised by both Houses, acting jointly or one after the other, shall be performed or exercised by the National Assembly.
(2) Any function or power of the Senate shall, if performed or exercised by the National Assembly before the date contemplated in subsection (1), be deemed to have been duly performed or exercised by the Senate.
The Second Senate (and its Committees), are expected to conduct their activities in an open and transparent manner that in particular, accomodates and allows for public attendance and participation. Chapter 8 - The Legislature, Part 5 - Parliament's General Procedures and Rules, excerpts:
118. (1) Parliament shall— (a) conduct its business in an open manner, and its sittings and those of its committees shall be open to the public; and (b) facilitate public participation and involvement in the legislative and other business of Parliament and its committees.
(2) 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.
This is a positive step from the old order in which Parliament appeared to revel in excessive officialdom, and gave scant attention to public opinion.
To be fair to the 10th Parliament that existed between 2008 - 2013, the above provision allowing for public participation was commonplace even before the 2013 General Elections. Nevertheless, its constitutionalisation with the passage of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 was a welcome and refreshing development. Indeed, the Senate can, if necessary, and at any time, choose to conduct its sitting from any location that it chooses, other than at Parliament Buildings. Part 6 - Miscellaneous:
126. (1) A sitting of either House may be held at any place within Kenya and may commence at any time that the House appoints.