Understanding Punguza Mizigo Bill – Over Representation
Last week we took a look at Punguza Mizigo Bill with respect to the 7 year single term presidential term limit, and found out that not only will the 7 year single term presidential term limit enable the president to effectively deliver on his/her mandate without worrying about political ramifications, but will also put an end to the previously recurring pre and post election violence common when a sitting president vies for reelection. In this second part of the three parts article, we take a look at the Punguza Mizigo Bill’s proposal that we should drastically reduce our representation to meaningful levels.
The argument by the team behind Punguza Mizigo Bill is that Kenya is vastly over represented. Kenya’s parliament for example has 416 representatives 349 in the National Assembly and the rest (67 representatives) in the Senate. The population of Kenya currently even before we do the census is estimated to be 50 million. By ratio therefore, Kenyans have one representative for every 120,000 Kenyans. The number of representatives in Kenya have been compared, by ratio, to the representatives in territories such as the US, UK, India, and China. US and UK because those two countries largely form Kenya’s policy and political structure, and China and India because those other two have the largest population world wide.
In US, there are a total of 535 members of Congress composed of 100 Senators and 435 representatives in the House of Representatives. These 535 members of Congress together represent a population of about 400 million. The ratio of representation is therefore 1 representative for every 748,000 US citizens. If the representation in the US is used as a yardstick, then Kenya is over represented 6 times; that is, Kenya ought to have a total of 70 representatives to be at per with the US. The UK representation of 650 MPs against a population of about 66 million is almost equal to that of Kenya. However it is important to note that an MP in the UK earns an equivalent of kshs 660,000 per month, whereas a Kenyan MP earns an upward of kshs 1 million per month. This is despite the fact that UK GDP is $2.66 trillion as compared to $94 billion GDP for Kenya. That is, UK’s GDP is 30 times larger than Kenya’s GDP hence a Kenyan MP ought to earn at most 30 times less (approximately Kshs 22,000) a month; yet a Kenyan MP earns twice as much as a UK MP.
In India with over 1.3 billion people, the number of representatives is a paltry 804 representatives divided among three houses. The ratio of representation for India is therefore 1 representative for 1,617,000 Indians. This would mean that Kenya is over represented 13.5 times; that if we were to go with the Indian trend, we ought to have no more than 31 representatives. Last in comparison is China with a population of 1.4 billion people yet has 1,200 representatives, making a ratio almost equal to that of India.
Having realized that Kenya is way over represented, Punguza Mizigo Bill has recommended that representation in Kenya should be reduced from the current 416 members of parliament to 147 members. These 147 members will be drawn from the Counties where each County will elect three people to Parliament: two – a man and a woman, to the National Assembly and 1, a man or a woman, to the Senate. The total elected members will be 141, but to have the figure of 147, six MPs to the National Assembly will need to be nominated to represent minority groups. Even with such a proposal, it is clear to see that Kenya will still be over represented. A proposal I could have put forward is that Kenya should have only one house, the Senate, made up of no more than 70 members, 47 elected from each County, 13 nominated by the political parties and 10 nominated by a coalition of civic groups. The function of that Senate will be strictly to legislate and oversee the executive – no more, no less. The function of parliament as an organ for development (where MPs promise their electorates roads, electricity, etc), would be abolished. Instead, the Senators would be responsible to ensure that the executive implements its development agenda as contained in the ruling party’s manifesto and the nation’s development agenda.
The second step Punguza Mizigo Bill has taken to ensure over representation is dealt with is the proposal that Governors should not have deputies. Nairobi and West Pokot Counties have demonstrated that it is possible for a county to function without the input of Deputy Governors. Over the years also, it has been known that the Deputy President (or Vice President in the previous constitution), have had little to nothing to do in as far as running the country is concerned. The only reason a country has deputy president or prime minister is so that there shouldn’t be a vacuum in case the president is not able to discharge his duties. For counties however, a power vacuum can exist as the Governor does not hold in any military powers.
Although it is obvious that Kenya is over represented, many have argued that slashing the number of MPs to 147 will work against counties with large populations like Nairobi, Kiambu, Kakamega, and Nakuru. Those of this opinion hold that representation should take care of population distribution, where areas with many people should also send equally many MPs to Parliament. However this argument doesn’t hold to reality as the real situation has it that parliament hardly has over 30 members present at any single sitting to debate matters of national importance. Most bills are always debated by 30 to 50 members, and unless a two-third majority is required, the bills always get passed by such meagre numbers. Kenya’s experience has proved that parliament can actually function with as little as 30 MPs, with no community complaining of underrepresentation.
Now, anyone reading this and is able to present a memorandum to the Building Bridges Initiative, can we have a proposal that Kenya’s Parliament should have no more than 70 Members whose responsibility will be to legislate and oversight the executive and no more?