MPs pass new law to silence voters from questioning them

MPs pass new law to silence voters from questioning them
Parliament Wednesday passed a law to protect
MPs from public scrutiny and limit media
The proposed law introduced a new offence
called “scandalising Parliament” and prescribed
tough penalties to go with it.
A journalist deemed to have “scandalised”
Parliament will be fined Sh500,000 or jailed for
two years.
This means that reporters will be afraid to
investigate issues such as the wanton corruption
among MPs, which saw Parliament’s top
watchdog committee, the Public Accounts
Committee, reconstituted and the old members
removed en masse.
MPs are also notorious for awarding themselves
big salaries and changing the law to suit them,
issues which will become increasingly difficult to
report about.
The constitution guarantees the public’s right to
know and that of the media to report.
In a democracy, those who are put in charge of
public affairs are required to be more open to
scrutiny than private citizens.
However, it is not clear how and when one can
be deemed to be guilty of defaming or
scandalising Parliament.
Most of those who supported retention of the
clauses were MPs affiliated to Cord.
Before the Bill was put to the vote, National
Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale had
argued that lawmakers should allow the public
to scrutinise their performance.
MPs overwhelming supported the Bill which will
become law if President Uhuru Kenyatta assents
to it.
In the past, MPs have complained about media
reports on their expenditure, including their
penchant for awarding themselves huge perks
which are exempted from taxation.
The fear is that the Parliamentary Powers and
Privileges Bill is open to abuse by the Parliament
itself, because it is open to interpretation on
what constitutes libellous reporting.
The other danger is that any person, including a
citizen, who protests against the actions of MPs,
and in the process utters words that the
legislators consider libellous, also risks being
fined and jailed.
This would apply, for instance, to the activists
who painted the words “MPigs” on pigs let lose
outside the National Assembly after legislators
awarded themselves higher pay in May 2013.
The same would apply to any person who
publishes a pamphlet or documentary that MPs
deem scandalous.

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