Ministers to answer questions in House after MPs amend rules

Written by on 10 March 2023

Cabinet Secretaries will begin to appear on the floor of the National Assembly from March 23 after MPs approved amendments to the Standing Orders.

The lawmakers adopted a report of the Committee on Procedure and House Rules that sought to amend Standing Order 25A to allow a Cabinet Secretary to expound on government policy, reply to questions and provide reports concerning matters under their docket.

CSs will now be required to appear on Wednesday afternoon for three hours after 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.

“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,” the amendments read.

No new questions

It adds: “That, Standing Order 40 be amended by inserting the following new paragraph immediately after paragraph (3)—(3A) On Wednesday afternoon, Questions and Reports by Cabinet Secretaries shall have precedence over all other business for a period not exceeding three hours.”

Ugenya MP David Ochieng, who is a member of the Speaker’s panel, while moving the amendments said allowing Cabinet Secretaries to appear before the House will ensure they take the work of the House seriously.

Ochieng said MPs will have 14 days to forward their questions as they will not be allowed to ask new questions to the CSs outside what they were scheduled to respond to.

“Our Constitution allows either House to have powers to summon anyone to appear before the House,” he said.

He added: “Historically this country had a case where minister’s sat and answered questions directly from MPs when asked. Since the new Constitution came into force it has been very difficult for us as Parliament to get answers from CSs. It has been difficult to ensure that members are able to hold CSs to account. We have seen laxity on the side of the CS, you can be harassed yet you can’t be chased away and that is why we ask members to support this committee,” he said.

Leader of Majority Kimani Ichung’wa said the CS will start appearing before MPs from March 23.

“This is not the first time there is an attempt to ask CSs to appear. Even in the 12th Parliament there was an attempt,” he said.

The decision of the House comes after President William Ruto asked Parliament to review its laws to allow CSs to respond to questions by MPs and outline the government’s agenda.

In his inaugural speech to the joint sitting of Parliament, Ruto argued that the decision was meant to enhance accountability.

“I ask Parliament to consider a mechanism in the Standing Orders to facilitate Cabinet Secretaries to articulate government agenda, explain policy and answer questions on the floor of the House to enhance executive accountability to the people of Kenya through their elected representatives,” he said.

Former House Speaker, now Attorney General, is on record saying members will only have to amend Standing Order 253 to allow strangers to address Parliament.

Muturi said this will not be the first time he will be pushing to have CSs appear in the House as similar efforts to do this were fought by the previous government.

In 2018, the National Assembly reintroduced the question time following amendments to the Standing Orders.

The move by the Procedure and House Rules committee did not, however, mean that CSs would appear in the Chamber to respond to the MPs questions but they were required to appear before departmental committees when required to do so.

With the passage of the amendments, the Clerk will be required to prepare and publish on the parliamentary website a tentative list of Cabinet Secretaries scheduled to reply to Questions.

The Clerk will also provide Reports the House, a weekly programme showing the business of the House, and a schedule of sittings of the various committees.

The Leader of the Majority Party will be required to inform the House of the date, time and order in which Cabinet Secretaries will appear to reply to questions and provide reports to the House and committees.

Majority party

If a member wants to ask supplementary questions to the CS, the amendments give the Speaker powers to allow them to ask related questions as well as permit a member other than the member who asked a question to ask a further supplementary question that relates to the original question.

“The Speaker may, on request of the Leader of the Majority Party, vary the order in which Questions shall be disposed of, or defer a Question scheduled to be responded to. A Cabinet Secretary shall attend and answer any Question concerning matters for which the Cabinet Secretary is responsible.”

It adds: “Cabinet Secretary shall provide physical and electronic copies of the reply to a Question at least a day before appearing before the House. Subject to Standing Order 42A (Notice of Question), the House shall dispose of a Question in the sequence it appears in the Schedule of Questions or as the Speaker may direct.”

And in order to allow extension of the House sitting during the Wednesday sitting, the MPs approved amendments to Standing Order 30 that will allow the Speaker or the chairperson of committees to interrupt the business then under consideration and ask leave to sit again at 1.00pm during a morning sitting, at 7.00pm during an afternoon sitting on Tuesday and Thursday 9.00pm during an afternoon sitting on Wednesday and also in the case of an allotted day.

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