Cabinet Secretaries to appear before the House after change of rules
Cabinet Secretaries will now appear before the plenary of the National Assembly every Wednesday afternoons to answer questions from by hon. Members. This follows an adoption of the Report of the Procedure and House Rules Committee that amended various sections of the Standing Orders to allow the Cabinet Secretaries to physically appear before the House and answer questions.
The legislators amended Standing Order 25A to allow a Cabinet Secretary to expound on Government policy, reply to questions and provide reports concerning matters under their docket. The CSs will now be required to appear before the House on Wednesday afternoons between 2.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. This is a result of the adoption of amendments to Standing Order 40.
Standing Orders are the rules and regulations that govern the conduct of House businesses and provide for establishment of various offices and their mandates.
The amendment which was carried read:-
“THAT, Standing Order 25A be amended by deleting paragraph (b) and substituting thereof the following new paragraphs: a Cabinet Secretary to expound on government policy, reply to Questions and provide Reports concerning matters under his or her control; other persons to make submissions or presentations before the House,”.
During the opening of the 13th parliament on Thursday September 29, 2022, President Dr. William Ruto asked Parliament to consider putting in a place a mechanism in the Standing Orders to facilitate Cabinet Secretaries to articulate government agenda as well as explain government policy. This, President Ruto held will be in a bid to enhance Executive accountability to the people of Kenya through their elected representatives.
Additionally, in his Memorandum to the Speakers of the National Assembly and the Speaker of the Senate date December 9th 2022, the President said that it is ill-considered to interpret the rigid separation of powers established under the constitution and organs of government from oversight and accountability.
“I believe that our government will become more responsive, accountable and effective when it is subjected to rigorous oversight. There is tremendous benefit in experiencing checks and balances in the course of policy implementation,” the President’s Memoranda read in part.
It added: “The executive has vested interest in engaging productively with Parliament because the Legislature is the custodian of critical instruments that are indispensable for the functioning of Government. There is profound value in prosecuting the Executive’s legislative agenda and elaborating government policy from the floor of the House as opposed to segmented committee engagements”
President Ruto held that an additional benefit of the Executive participation in Parliamentary business in transparency of public proceedings, which can close the information gap between citizens and government, thereby enhancing trust.
“For these reasons, I recommend and request that Parliament considers formulating a mechanism within its Standing Orders to facilitate the participation of Cabinet Secretaries and Chief Administrative Secretaries in Parliamentary proceedings, particularly by responding to questions raised by MPs,” read Ruto’s memorandum.
According to Standing Order 42 (c), a Cabinet Secretary to provide physical and electronic copies of the reply to a question at least a day before appearing before the House.
Currently, the CSs respond to queries through Committees that then submit their findings or reports to the whole House.
This has often led to complaints by MPs who accuse committee chairpersons of delaying their responses and shifting blame to the CSs when pushed to expound on answers.
In addition, the lawmakers amended Standing Orders to reduce the period within which a CS is required to answer questions from 30 to 14 days, and for urgent questions from three days to 48 hours.
In the new rules, the Speaker of the National Assembly Hon. (Dr) Moses Wetang’ula shall provide a designated place in the chambers where the CSs will answer the questions from.
The Clerk of the National Assembly shall prepare and publish on the Parliamentary website a tentative list of CSs scheduled to reply questions. The questions and reports shall have precedence over all other business for a period not exceeding three hours.