We have to make Political manifestos to be legally binding documents

Campaigns are already underway, and hardly two weeks ago a new movement in the political scene in Kenya was formed. They call themselves NASA. As part of their agreement, the four principals of NASA unveiled a 9 point document that we have no doubt will be part of their political manifesto. Political manifestos, or rather published verbal declarations “of the intentions, motives, or views … of political party or government” are not new, but in Kenya we started taking them seriously during the 2002 political campaigns.

In the 2002 campaigns, the two leading political movements NARC and KANU unveiled their political manifestos, and key pillars in the NARC manifesto were zero tolerance to corruption, enactment of a new constitution within the first 100 days, and creation of a million jobs every year. NARC failed in all three – and the failure to enact a new constitution that promised the creation of the office of the Executive Prime Minister was largely responsible for both the rejection of Wako’s constitution in 2005 and the Post Election Violence in 2007/2008.

In the first weeks of NARC government, the citizens were up in arms against corruption on the roads and in government offices, but the laxity with which NARC approached corruption led to the assimilation of corruption as a culture both in low and high places. Today’s corruption can be attributed to the failure by Kibaki to tackle corruption head on yet he was best placed to eradicate the vice once and for all.

The next regime change came in 2013 after Kenya enacted a new constitution in 2010. Jubilee Party that formed the new government had also made several promises during their campaigns in 2012 with major promises being the provision of free laptops to all class 1 pupils within the first year of their leadership, erection of 5 state of the art sports stadiums across the country, creation of at least one million jobs per year, ensuring double digit economic growth, and cleaning up the corruption mess.

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As Jubilee celebrates its fourth year of reign this April, the fact remains that to date not all class 1 pupils have laptops but instead a selected few have some kind of tablets, there are zero new state of the art stadiums anywhere in the country, hardly a million jobs have been created in the three years of Jubilee leadership, and the best the economy has performed in the last three years is 6.2% growth, way lower than the Jubilee’s promised double digits economic growth. On corruption, the president is on the record asking Kenyans what Kenyans would want him to do. In his own words he asked, “mnataka nifanye nini?”

It is clear that NARC, PNU and Jubilee political outfits failed miserably to honour the promises they made to Kenyans, and these failures must not be allowed to continue. Promises are sacred, so must be political promises. When Kenyans entrust a group of political individuals to handle their money (taxes), when these individuals are entrusted to provide security, ensure that every Kenyan has access to national resources, healthcare, education, and jobs; when Kenyans entrust these individuals based on the promises the individuals made during political campaigns, then Kenyans must have the ability to hold those individuals accountable for the promises.

Someone may argue that Kenyans already have avenues for holding political parties accountable for their promises, including the avenue for exercising democratic rights during elections, but history and the current political tone indicate quite the opposite. Opinion polls conducted by firms such Ipsos Synovate indicate that Jubilee is highly likely to win the the next general elections, and this is despite the fact that Jubilee’s rate card solely based on the promises they made is way below 30%. In the realization therefore that voting cannot hold political parties responsible, especially in a country like Kenya where voters line up to vote for candidates that are ethnically affiliated to them, a totally radical system of accountability should be framed and adopted – and this is by making the political manifestos be legally binding.

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The question of legally binding political manifestos has been discussed in Quora, where a Quora user asked the question, “If a political party’s election manifesto was a legally binding contract would that encourage politicians to keep their promises?” The answers in the forum indicate divided opinions down the middle, with those against making political manifestos to be legally binding saying that the politicians won’t have the leeway to make promises they can’t break as the greatest downside, and others viewing legally binding manifestos as a form of corruption. It is important to read the discussion for yourself to form your own opinion.

My opinion is that legally binding political manifestos will bring disciple in political contests. Foremost, legally binding political manifestos will deter politicians from making outrageous promises they know cannot be fulfilled within the prevailing economic environment. Secondly, legally binding political manifestos will greatly improve the nature of political debates to deviate from tribal outbursts to issue oriented discourse. Lastly, legally binding political manifestos will force competing political movements to thorough scrutinize whatever they want to promise Kenyans, and only make those promises that they know for sure will be at the best interest of Kenyans.

The next question would be how to enforce the political manifestos as a legal document. This should be done by first including in the election laws requirements that any political party and its leadership that hasn’t fulfilled a minimum of 70% or thereabout of its promises stand banned from participating in any political process for one or two electoral cycles. Secondly, an institution such as Kenya National Bureau of Statistics should be mandated to study and provide annual progress report on the implementation of the ruling party’s manifesto, alongside providing a verifiable scorecard on overall performance of the ruling political party.

 To avoid ambiguity, the laws on political manifestos should be framed such that political parties can only make tangible promises on key economic pillars such as infrastructural development, manufacturing, agriculture, telecommunication, education, health sector, security, jobs, housing, and overall economic growth. For example in infrastructure the political party can only make a promise that they will tarmac 10,000 kilometers of new roads within 4 years, a number that can easily be verified by KNBS. If the political party manages to tarmac only 3000 kilometers of new roads as in the case of Jubilee Government, then the scorecard on roads must be understood as 30%. If in all key areas the party does not meet the 70% minimum, then the party cannot be allowed to participate in the forth coming general elections. To allow Kenyans come to terms with the verdict from KNBS, the report on the on the performance of the ruling party as evaluated based on its manifesto must be published at least 9 months prior to the general elections.
Like minded Kenyans should take this article seriously and immediately start thinking through how political manifestos can be made to be legally binding documents between the political parties and the general public. You never know, this could be the milestone we have all been waiting for to ensure mature political process in Kenya that will ultimately translate to meaningful development.
Odipo Riaga
Managing Editor at KachTech Media
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