When 65-year-old Moses Masika Wetangula was elected as the Speaker of the 13th Parliament on Thursday 8 September 2022, he became the 8th Speaker in the history of the National Assembly. Others who have served in said office include Sir Humphrey Slade (1967-1970), Fred Gideon Mbiti (1970-1988), Moses Arap Keino (1988-1991), Jonathan Arap Ng’eno (1991-1993), Francis Ole Kaparo (1993-2008), Kenneth Marende (2008-2013) and Justin Muturi (2013-2022). Wetangula will assume office despite garnering 215 votes which is 18 votes short of the requisite 233 (or two-thirds) for one to assume office—after Kenneth Marende, his closest competitor conceded.
The Speaker of the National Assembly is the third-in-command and the most powerful office in the land after the Head of State and Deputy President. To be elected Speaker, one must marshal at least two-thirds or 233 of the 349 members of the National Assembly votes.
Why the Speaker of the National Assembly is Important
The Speaker of the National Assembly is the glue that holds the institution of Parliament together. As the spokesperson of the House, without the Speaker, the House cannot transact any business.
The Speaker is an ex-officio Member of Parliament and is elected by MPs as their first order of business (and once they have been sworn into office) pursuant to Article 106 of the Constitution. As the totem of Parliament, the Speaker is multi-faceted. Their responsibilities include constitutional, statutory (in terms of the law), procedural and administrative powers and functions.
Role of Speaker of the National Assembly
- The Speaker presides over debates in the House and, though quite rarely, in the Committee of the whole House. He or she is the spokesperson of the House. As a presiding officer, the Speaker ensures the orderly flow of business and that the House observes parliamentary rules and traditions, both written and unwritten.
- The Speaker directs the activities of the National Assembly and its Committees and presides over the proceedings of the House under the Standing Orders of the National Assembly. In case of a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament, the Speaker of the National Assembly presides and is assisted by the Speaker of the Senate.
- Interpreting all matters touching on the application of the procedure and practice of Parliament at all times and is the final authority as provided in the Standing Orders. In cases where matters are not expressly provided for, the Speaker decides based on the Constitution, Statute laws, precedents, customs, procedures and traditions of Parliament of Kenya and other jurisdictions.
- Examining and rules on the admissibility or inadmissibility of Motions, legislative proposals, Bills, petitions and Committee reports.
- Chairing key House Committees that include the House Business Committee, Procedure and House Rules Committee, and Committee of Privileges.
- Official spokesperson/representative of the House in its dealings with the Public, Executive, Judiciary, Parliaments in other jurisdictions and bodies outside Parliament. The Speaker is an enabler of debate and protector of the rights of the public and the public representatives to hold the executive to account.
- The Speaker’s role in parliamentary diplomacy and enhancing parliamentary relations includes hosting visiting delegations of parliamentarians/ dignitaries, accepting invitations from other parliaments, and participating in international meetings of Speakers or Parliamentarians among others. The Speaker holds membership in a number of Parliamentary Associations and Inter-parliamentary groups. For instance Kenneth Marende, was the Speaker of Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the 10th Parliament Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) among others.
- Administering the oath of affirmation or allegiance to Members and issues writs for vacant seats.
- Chairing the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC).
- Allocating national revenue between the national and county governments; appropriating funds for national government and State organs’ expenditure; and overseeing national revenue and expenditure.
Political Impartiality of the Speaker
The Speaker is integral in providing the foundation of a robust and vibrant democracy. Balancing the right of the majority to conduct business with the right of the minority to be heard serves as a test to the mettle of the Speaker. He or she is expected to ensure impartiality and fairness to all political parties.
On matters of procedure, the Speaker is left to their own discretion. For instance, the Speaker decides when or whether to allow an urgent question, or a complaint about breach of privilege. The Speaker is always heard in silence.
The holder of this office requires a broad range of skills and personal qualities to successfully fulfil all the duties of the position. Key attributes that help the Speaker govern include the ability to be sympathetic, firm, fair, knowledgeable, fearless, and honest at all times. However, floating above the fray to remain convivial yet impartial when need arises is the enduring mark of a true Speaker.