Dissenter: Dissenting minister is not allowed to distance himself from the Cabinet at everyone’s expense
It’s been 20 years now since we adopted multi-party politics and, in many ways, we are still struggling with its operations. Having spent so much time under tyranny, we entered the new era with our eyes solely on the rights that we were consistently denied and we hardly ever addressed ourselves to the duties that come with the rights we wanted to exercise.
One area in which the concentration has been on rights and not duties is in government and party administration. And it came to focus recently after the Prime Minister relieved Mr. Najib Balala of his duties as Minister for Tourism.
Prior to his ejection from the Cabinet, Mr. Balala had openly taunted the PM and declared that he was forming another political party to compete with his sponsoring party. He had also made personal attacks on the political character of the Prime Minister.
There are critics who have accused the PM of being undemocratic for firing the Tourism Minister. Others have said that the Minister’s performance was so good that he should never have been removed.
This is one way in which we look only at the rights granted and never at the obligation imposed. Even in the most developed democracies like the US, the United Kingdom or India, Mr. Balala would have been fired for making a personal attack on his appointing authority.
Indeed, the reality is that the more developed democracies have tighter rules of party discipline than the weaker democracies. To the extent that in England, for instance, the political party does often require its Members of Parliament to attend debates and votes in the House and will discipline a member who does not attend Parliament when required to. In Kenya, the attitude is laissez faire and we have often seen MPs abstain from voting on critical Bills that their parties had a critical interest in.
This enforcement of party discipline is so strictly enforced in England and other Westminster style democracies that it is termed “whipping”. The party even appoints a person to act as a “prefect” over MPs who is called a chief whip. The work of the chief whip is to cajole and, where necessary, threaten MPs into towing the party line.
Where a member breaks rank with the political party that sponsored him to Parliament, then the party “dewhips” him or her. Once a member is dewhipped, he or she loses all privileges granted to them as party members. They would, for instance, be replaced in all parliamentary committees in which they sit and, if they have held positions in government, they are similarly replaced.
This has become an accepted democratic practice in the Commonwealth and also in Kenya. In October 2002, the Democratic Party chief whip Norman Nyagah dewhipped Kiambaa MP Njenga Karume, Ntonyiri MP Maoka Maore, Laikipia West MP Chege Mbitiru and Kipipiri MP Mwangi Githiomi for supporting Kanu for the anticipated General Election.
From a democratic practice point of view, Mr. Balala was dewhipped by his party for being disloyal to the party and its leader. Consequently, he lost all right to the privileges that a political party grants its members, one of which is to serve in the Cabinet when the party is in power.
Alongside the concept of party discipline is also that of collective responsibility. Collective responsibility says that the government stands or falls together. If Parliament throws out the government, then everyone goes home. Single Cabinet Ministers are therefore required to support the government regardless of their personal views.
A Minister who feels strongly against a position taken by the government or who is unhappy with the way the government is run is required to resign or, if he fails, is invariably fired. He is not allowed to distance himself from the Cabinet at everyone’s expense.
Paul Mwangi is an adviser to the Prime Minister on legal matters.