No! You cannot come to House, Speaker tells CASs

Written by on 11 April 2023

President William Ruto’s 50 Chief Administrative Secretaries (CASs) are facing a fresh hurdle after the National Assembly blocked them from appearing before MPs to answer questions.

National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetangula has directed that CASs will not be allowed to represent Cabinet Secretaries in Parliament to respond to questions.

Parliament amended its Standing Orders allowing MPs to question Cabinet Secretaries. The House took the move on the advice of President William Ruto who said he wanted the Executive arm of government to be more accountable.

With the new Standing orders, CSs can start appearing before MPs as early as tomorrow. This would mark a return to a tradition that had remained in place since independence until 2010 when the Constitution was changed.

“To the Cabinet Secretaries, there will be no room for delegation of anybody to appear before this House to answer questions on their behalf. Each Cabinet Secretary is obligated under the Constitution to come to the House in person and answer questions or expound policy in their docket in response to questions raised by Members,” Wetang’ula directed.

He, however, left it to chairpersons of House committees to decide whether they will allow the CASs to appear before them to respond to questions by MPs on behalf of Cabinet Secretaries.

In a response to concerns raised by Deputy Minority leader Robert Mbui – who sought to know whether CASs would be appearing before House committees as has been the norm in the past- Wetang’ula was categorical that only CSs would be allowed to appear in the House.

He reminded MPs that the previous Senate never allowed CASs to appear before senators.

“In committees, I do not know what the chairpersons do. However, while serving in the Committees of Finance, and Defence and Foreign Relations in the Senate, we never allowed a Cabinet Secretary to send a CAS or PS on their behalf. We only dealt with Cabinet Secretaries. I leave it to the chairpersons of committees to decide what they want to do,” he noted.

Legality of appointments

The development is the latest in a chain of controversies surrounding the appointment of the 50 CASs, which started when they were sworn into office without being vetted by the National Assembly following a communication from Wetang’ula that there was no law requiring them to be vetted by the House.

 “It is notified that the Speaker of the National Assembly has referred back to the Appointing Authority the Transmittal of the Nominees for Appointment to the rank of Chief Administrative Secretaries,” State House Spokesperson Hussein Mohamed said last month, just hours before the CASs were sworn in.

The ceremony, conducted at State House, came just before a High Court judge was to rule on the legality of the appointments. However, an amended court plea led the court to suspend the CASs from reporting for duty or earning a salary until the case was heard and determined. The case is yet to start.

According to the interim order given by Justice Hedwig Ong’udi, following a case filed by the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and Katiba Institute, the CASs are also barred from earning any remuneration or benefit.

The petitioners have sued the President and the Public Service Commission (PSC), while the CASs are listed as interested parties. They are challenging President Ruto’s powers to appoint 50 CASs instead of 23 recommended by the Public Service Commission.

Attempts by CASs Dennis Itumbi, Evans Kidero, Samuel Tunai and Nicholas Gumbo to assume office on grounds that the orders barring them from assuming office were issued irregularly and were intended to “subvert the operations of the government” were rejected by the court.

Justice Ong’udi declined requests by four CASs to set aside the orders on grounds that there are several issues that are pending determination.

Among the issues pending determination are the powers of the court to hear and determine the lawsuits, empanelment of an uneven bench, consolidation of the two petitions and whether the court will allow LSK and Katiba Institute to amend their petition.

Cash crisis

The appointment of the CASs ran into headwinds after the public used social media platforms to criticise their pay and perks, saying the money to be used to pay them should instead be used to build and equip hospitals. Wananchi also questioned why the government was appointing the 50 when its top officials had indicated that they were facing a cash crisis. By yesterday, civil servants and state officers, including MPs and Senators, were yet to be paid their March salaries.

In appointing them, President Ruto had argued that the CASs were the final component in constituting his government, which came to power in September after Kenya Kwanza won the August 2022 election.

Meanwhile, Cabinet Secretaries will start appearing before MPs tomorrow to respond to questions as well as provide reports sought by Members.

During their appearances Wetang’ula said as is the practice, a Member will be required to deliver a signed copy of the proposed question to the Clerk, who shall process it in line with the provisions of the House Standing Orders before the final version is submitted to his office for approval.

“Thereafter, the Clerk shall transmit the approved questions to the relevant ministries for response by the respective Cabinet Secretaries,” said Wetang’ula, also the head of the Legislature.

Concerning how Cabinet Secretaries shall respond to questions, the Speaker said the Leader of the Majority Party shall inform the House of the date, time and order in which Cabinet Secretaries shall appear to reply to questions and provide reports to the House. In so doing, Wetang’ula directed that the Leader of the Majority take into consideration the urgency of each question.

“To this end, regularly, the Clerk shall prepare and publish on the parliamentary website a tentative list of Cabinet Secretaries scheduled to reply to Questions and provide reports to the House on the advice of the Leader of the Majority Party,” he said.

Wetang’ula, however, clarified that the appearance of CSs in plenary would not mean they would not appear in committees if required to do so.

“If there will be questions that will be inadequately prosecuted on the Floor, the discretion of the Speaker may direct them back to committees for further inquiry and investigations. There may also be questions that in the opinion of the Speaker and on advice of the Clerk require in-depth investigations and may be sent directly to committees,” Wetang’ula said in re-introducing the tradition that had taken root in the Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and early part of Mwai Kibaki administrations when Cabinet Ministers — who were also Members of Parliament — were required to answer questions in the House.

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