It’s time to protect constitutional Commissions
In the Sunday Standard issue of June 16, 2013 columnist Moses Kuria rekindled a debate that has been trending in the public domain and took an extreme position regarding the place of constitutional Commissions under the new political dispensation. In that article, Kuria opened his commentary by negating the purpose of all the constitutional Commissions describing them in unflattering statements as an unnecessary burden to the taxpayer.
He further sunk deeper and engaged in genetic fallacy by attacking the character of Commissioners who head these legitimate institutions which are anchored in the Constitution. Interestingly Kuria’s commentary is a tautology in itself when he describes the Commissions he loathes thus: ‘These watchdog bodies have quickly become a barking waste of money and time. Increasingly sick and tired of the Commissions, millions of Kenyans are wondering whether their nit-picking procedures and often hopelessly overlapping mandates are any use to anyone at all’.
Unwittingly, Kuria admits and rightly so that the Commissions are watchdogs and they have nit picking procedures. Indeed the drafters of the Constitution understood the role of powerful oversight mechanisms to check the excesses of the Executive. Article 249; Objects, authority and funding of Commissions and independent offices categorically spells out the role of these institutions as: a) to protect the sovereignty of the people; b) secure the observance by all State organs of democratic values and principles; and c) promote constitutionalism.
At a time when the country has embarked on implementing the Constitution under the devolved government it would be foolhardy not to have agencies superintending over the implementation of specific provisions in the Constitution when the same Constitution provides for such. We are already witnessing attempts to scuttle the Constitution. Moreover Commissions such as CIC have a winding up period by which they are naturally expected to have discharged their mandate and close shop.
But it is the virulent attack on the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the Commission on Administrative Justice and the National Gender and Equality Commission that exposes the utter ignorance that the author wallows in as he attempts to justify the impractical role of the Commissions. For instance he bizarrely wonders aloud ‘Was it necessary to split the national gender commission from the human rights one? One would presume that women constitute 51 per cent of the humanity that KNHCR purports to represent’.
Obviously there is a lot of misconception the author needs to be disabused. For starters gender does not connote women. For purposes of the mandate of NGEC, the term ‘Gender’ means the social construction of the roles and responsibilities of women and men among different communities and cultures, classes, ages and during different periods of history.
The National Gender and Equality Commission derives its mandate from the Constitution of Kenya 2010 and specifically in articles 10, 27, 43, 59 and Chapter fifteen among others. Article 10 provides for the national values and principles of governance, which include: human dignity, equity, social justice, inclusiveness, equality, human rights and non-discrimination.
Article 27 of the Constitution sets out the principles of equality and freedom from discrimination by stating that, every person is equal before the law and has a right to equal protection and benefit under the law. NGEC mandate focuses on women, the elderly, children, youth, persons with disabilities, minorities and marginalized groups and communities.
The functions of the Commission are spelt out in section 8 of the NGEC Act 2011 which Kuria can easily access and appraise himself further. It might interest the author to know that NGEC has made major interventions geared at ensuring the principles of equality and non-discrimination for all the special interest groups in the country from Tana River to Wajir, Lodwar, Migori, Limuru to mention but a few. Presently the Commission is seeking legal interpretation as to the nomination of members of the county assemblies just to ensure every Kenyan gets an opportunity to serve. Millions of Kenyans are thanking the Commission for the intervention.
While it is understandable that Kenyans are yet to fully internalize the complex nature and demands of the new constitutional dispensation, it is worrying that opinion leaders such as Moses Kuria seem keen to water down some of the most progressive institutions this Constitution has spawned. It is unfortunate that, instead of understanding the very clear mandates and deliverables of each of the Commissions, the author has brazenly gone on the warpath with unprovoked hostility and lacking in honesty.
Kuria is welcome to grab a copy of NGEC’s Strategic Plan and understand the work of the Commission and its relationship with other State agencies in promoting a just and equitable society.
Daniel Waitere is the Communications Officer National Gender and Equality Commission.