Parties can get us more women in Parliament

Allamanda Room at the Nairobi Serena was full by the time last Friday the smart people from the Institute of Economic Affairs finished making their presentation and launching their report on the cost of implementing the gender principle.

There was not enough time for the plenary session after the launch because when Kibra MP Kenneth Okoth gave the audience a chance to take a breather, they started taking tea and discussing the report and catching up.

It was with some evident joy that they did this because the bright guys at the IEA have done a great job analyzing what it would cost to implement the requirement in the Constitution that not more than two thirds of elective positions should be held by one gender.

According to their analysis, it would, in a worst case scenario, cost Kenya Sh1.5 billion more per year to cater for the additional women that would have to be nominated to Parliament to fill the current gender gap.

Broken down, this would be just Sh57.83 more per Kenyan.

Viewed from a regional context, that still wouldn’t be expensive because Kenya is the largest economy in the region and has the highest GDP per capita. “By both measures, it is the wealthiest nation in the region,” IEA said.

But with women forming a mere 21 per cent of our Parliament, Kenya is clearly lagging behind in terms of having both genders represented in elective positions. Burundi is at 35 per cent, Tanzania at 36 per cent, Uganda at 35 per cent and Rwanda leads the pack from the very front with 58 per cent.

All this appears to easily justify the position that it wouldn’t cost too much to have more MPs, most of them women in our current circumstances, and to support the suggestion by the Kenya Women Parliamentarians Association.

But from what I have observed in the Eleventh Parliament, which I cover on a daily basis, there is little actual justification in having an increased size of Parliament.

There is as yet no proof that a bigger Parliament does a better job than its predecessors, what with all the laws that have had to be challenged at the High Court within days of their enactment.

It starts right from the parking lot, which, when the Senate and the National Assembly are both in session, are crowded with the large SUVs every MP acquires as a matter of course.

Lounging about close or in each of these are the bodyguards and drivers every one of them has. Every MP also has a personal assistant.

One might argue that with the expansion of the facilities and the continuing acquisition of the buildings around Parliament, we shall in the future have enough space in Parliament Square to accommodate all the MPs we need.

But from the outside looking in on an almost daily basis, we have too many MPs doing too little.

That is not to say that this is attributable to the women. Men are equally guilty. A colleague likes to point out a man he knew as a good doctor in his home town who is no longer using his medical expertise and does not appear to spend his time in the House very well.

So far, there has not been any evidence that a larger House is a better House. I need not repeat here the perpetual complaint about the quality of debate in the House. Forget also the perception that the Senate does not appear to have much work on its hands.

But, judging by the few women who have stood out in the Tenth and Eleventh Parliament, the truth is the House could benefit from having more women in it.

What would happen if women are allowed to hang on the proposed changes to have more of the under-represented gender nominated to the House post-election would be a replication of the situation before the last elections where female candidates were told to contest for the positions reserved for women.

That way, even the voter is conditioned to think that because there are positions reserved for women or that they would be nominated to the House “for free” if there aren’t enough of them, they shouldn’t be elected.

What do we do instead?

Since parties are mainly influenced by the individual or group of individuals at the top, the system could be changed so that it forces the parties to prove that they have taken care of the interests of all special interest groups before they are allowed to participate in elections or to field a presidential candidate.

From what I have heard, some of the youthful nominated MPs in the House, and who I must admit have been doing a good job, were put in that position by the deliberate efforts of their party leaders.

In the face of the plain truth that either scrapping some seats, reducing the number of constituencies or increasing the number of MPs would be a hard sell and an unnecessary and loud political contest, changing the system from the party would seem like the best option.

It is easy and stress-free.