Okiya Omtatah Okoiti: Give grand opposition a chance

BEFORE WE IMPUTE IMPROPER motives on the part of those MPs who wish to institute a structured mechanism through which backbenchers can formally engage the Government to keep it on the straight and narrow, it is advisable that we don’t proceed on the basis of distortions.

Individuals and parties run for elections in the hope that they will form the next government. It is only after they fail to make the numbers required that they embrace the opposition as a fallback measure. I am yet to hear of any serious party that offers itself for election so that it can be out of government.

I, therefore, find it extremely dishonest to argue that these MPs should not be allowed to form a formal opposition simply because they are doing so after being left out of the Grand Coalition Government.

On the contrary, it is precisely because they were left out that they qualify to form a formal opposition.

The principle of collective responsibility does not allow ministers to oppose Government policies in Parliament. In fact, if the Grand Coalition Government is to deliver its promise, its entire membership must be strictly bound by the principle of collective responsibility.

Further, a structured opposition is one of the mechanism by which we can ensure that the coalition partners stay in place until they midwife the new dispensation they are supposed to.
Some people have argued that we take a journey back in time to the days when solo efforts by some MPs provided a modicum of opposition in Parliament.

To these people, our MPs can still play the opposition role as individuals like Mr Martin Shikuku, the Seven Bearded Sisters and others did in the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s under the Kanu dictatorship.

But such arguments do not augur well for the development of democracy. Our democracy will only be healthy the day we have healthy institutions.

A formal opposition cannot be done away with simply because we have the coalition Government or because some individuals have now ascended to power and would like to have an easy ride.

AND DEFINITELY, A SPACE OF THE formal opposition must not be kept conveniently vacant so that it can provide an exit for those who plan to decamp from the coalition in 2012.
The institution of the formal parliamentary opposition in democracies the world over is formally recognised in the laws of those countries.

But in Kenya, there is no specific law on any form of opposition in our Parliament. The Constitution is silent on the issue, only saying that Kenya will be a multiparty democracy. From the constitution to Parliament’s Standing Orders, there is scanty mention of opposition.

Our laws don’t clearly provide for an opposition other than when they mention it in passing like giving the leader of the opposition some role in the Parliamentary Service Commission.

There is also some implicit recognition of some form of opposition when the law requires that the President should consult party leaders when he appoints ministers from their parties.

What is refreshing about the current move by MPs to form a Grand Opposition is that for the first time, our Parliament will have a chance to legislate specific laws on the institution of the Official Opposition once the relevant Bill is tabled.

Parliament must legislate what happens when all major parties end up in a coalition government in future.

So those ministers and MPs opposed to the formation of a Grand Opposition for whatever reasons, including that it will threaten loyalty to political parties, should stop running around the country distorting the issue and wait to translate their concerns in Parliament when the proposed Bill comes up for debate.

Mr Okoiti is a playwright and human rights crusader

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