MPs without degrees panic as House passes electoral laws

Posted: June 23, 2012 in Politics/Current issues

A major shake-up is expected in grassroots politics following the failure of a plan to let Members of Parliament without university degrees defend their seats.

There are also fresh fears of academic fraud as desperate MPs and other hopefuls present fake academic papers to remain in the game.

The final version of the law passed Thursday locks out dozens of political players who had expected an easier than usual ride with the creation of new positions and constituencies. Parliament reinstated higher academic qualifications in the electoral laws a day after scrapping them when they were warned it may affect how the Salaries and Remuneration commission determines their pay.

The requirement of a university degree to hold positions in the National Assembly and the Senate is set to trigger fresh political calculations in regions where incumbents are locked out of March General Election. That the move has sent shockwaves across the political class was evident Friday at a meeting of MPs in Nairobi.

Lawmakers caught on the wrong side of the new rule accused colleagues who passed it of having ulterior motives. Some promised to fight back, including challenging the requirement in court as unconstitutional.

That is the only option available since nominations are less than five months away – not enough time to obtain a degree, unless one is completing their programme.

Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto Friday said the move would turn Parliament into what he termed “a senior common room” for dons and not a House of Representatives.

“Parliament should be a house of representatives regardless of academic qualifications,” said Ruto.
Water Minister Charity Ngilu told The Standard On Saturday she is about to complete her studies. The Kitui Central MP is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Administration and Leadership. She expects to graduate in October.

“I am doing my last examination paper today. In fact I am in the examination room now,” she said. In the past, Ngilu has come under fire from opponents over her academic background.

After the 1997 General Election, in which she took the political landscape by storm as the first woman presidential candidate, she got into trouble with intellectuals in the Social Democratic Party, Anyang Nyong’o, James Orengo, and the late Apollo Njonjo. Stung with their losses, they insisted that someone with a degree must lead the party.

Others whose academic backgrounds have been questioned now claim to have university education although their alleged training overseas cannot be independently confirmed. Authorities will have their work cut out to verify some of the newly minted degree certificates.

Inconsistencies about the dates they attended university programmes and graduation also raise doubts on the authenticity of the qualifications. Moreover, some cite apparently questionable institutions, which are either unknown or that ceased to operate years ago.

At least one MP claiming a degree certificate from an Indian university said he “could not remember the name of the institution”.

Likoni MP Mwalimu Masoud Mwahima is among those set to be locked out by the new rule. Mwahima sat for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination as a private candidate in 2007 at Kwale High School.

But the one-time Mombasa mayor performed dismally and has not furthered his education since. Gatundu North MP Clement Waibara, who got a reprieve last year when the Court of Appeal overturned a High Court directive nullifying his election, will also be denied opportunity to defend his seat.

Mudslinging characterised the hearing of the Gatundu North petition. The petitioner insisted Waibara is a school dropout who cannot articulate himself in English and Kiswahili and does not possess requisite academic qualifications. But the MP turned the heat on a friend who claimed to have sat proficiency test on his behalf in 2007, portraying his own academic background as questionable.

Information posted on the personal website of former Tourism Minister Najib Balala indicates he attended Serani School and Kakamega High School. The website states Balala has an “international education background” in Business Administration, International Urban Management, and Leadership from the University of Toronto and the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He does not hold an undergraduate degree.

Transport Assistant Minister Ali Hassan Joho, according to his secretariat, is a holder of a Bachelor of Commerce degree in business and human resource management. It is, however, not clear though when he attended university after leaving Serani Secondary School in Mombasa.

Personal details on Parliament’s website state Joint Government Whip Johnson Muthama graduated in 1991 in Gemologist & Diamond Grading System from the Gemological Institute Of America. Molo MP Joseph Kiuna holds a Diploma in Aircraft Engineering from the Kenya Armed Forces Technical Engineering College.

Assistant minister Asman Kamama is indicated to have acquired a certificate and BA in International Studies & Diplomacy from the Kennedy School, Washington Internal University. The ‘degree’, however, was pursued between May 2010 and May last year, making it two years shorter than the shortest full-time undergraduate courses recognised globally.

Nyakach MP Pollyns Ochieng’ whose profile on Parliament’s website states “soon graduating with BA Insurance and Economics by correspondence,” told The Standard On Saturday he holds a degree from an Indian university.

Ochieng’ supported the amendment to raise the academic ceiling saying: “It is not a bad idea. It will help enhance quality of leadership and increase sense in every decision made.”  Lands Assistant Minister and Kinango MP Samuel Gonzi Rai holds a diploma in Theology while his Medical Services colleague Kazungu Kambi has an Advanced Diploma from Kenya Polytechnic.

Rai said Parliament has spoken and must be followed, even as he criticised it for turning itself to a club of graduates. “We passed a Constitution not understanding that elections will be for graduates and not for popularity. So be it. I am ready for it and the public will speak for themselves,” said Rai.

Others who may be affected include nominated MP Shakila Abdallah, who holds a diploma in house keeping and laundry operations from Kenya Utalii College. ODM nominated MP Sheikh Muhammad Dor obtained Kasneb qualifications after his ‘O’ level at the Aga Khan High School in Mombasa, according to Parliament’s official website.

The educational background of Msambweni MP and a one-time Kwale County Council chairman Omar Zonga is unknown.

Imenti North MP Silas Muriuki who declined to state whether he met the new threshold said: “Most MPs in the larger Meru region will not be affected by the new demand. The few who are remaining will be graduating in August and will, therefore, not have a problem come the election time.”

Last year, MPs Ngilu, Rai, Kambi, Balala, Ms Shakila Abdalla were among lawmakers who voted against an initial attempt to impose a university degree for parliamentary aspirants on August 26, last year, when the House passed the Elections Bill. The proposal was defeated after MPs voted 56-39.



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