Kenyan Parliament airs proceedings to involve the public

The Kenyan Parliament's decision to allow live coverage of proceedings and to digitize the Hansard -- the printed transcripts of the proceedings -- has led to increased public participation in government.

"This is what technology can do," said Albert Wafula, a Nairobi lawyer. "People become more enlightened and can follow parliamentary debates, question their leaders and understand the kind of people they took to Parliament."

The level of participation was underscored three weeks ago, when Finance Minister Amos Kimunya resigned due to public pressure after live coverage of a parliamentary session seeking a vote of no confidence against him.

The live debate involved corruption allegations over the secret sale of the Grand Regency hotel, which was public property, to the Libyan government. An altercation between the finance minister and one member of Parliament, Bonnie Khalwale, eventually led to Kimunya's ouster.

What Kimunya did was wrong, and it was important that the public saw the debate live, said Khalwale, a major contributor to the motion seeking a vote of no confidence against the finance minister.

Adoption of such technology will ensure that Kenya's level of debate and interaction with the public is at pace with other countries, according to House Speaker Kenneth Marende.

"When the government embraces technology, then the public is more aware of the discussions, and they can participate more. Certainly the public, as well as Parliament, has benefited," said Wafula. "Now we will keep the legislators on their toes."

Parliament has been slow to embrace technology: Computerization began last year, but the parliamentary Web site does not contain vital information. Legislators' resumes were posted online but were taken down after the public expressed outrage over the level of education of some MPs.

When Marende took over in February after the post-election violence, he pledged to introduce live coverage of sessions and later announced that the Communications Commission of Kenya had given Parliament a frequency to begin live coverage of proceedings.

Currently, Parliament is using the state-run Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. In South Africa, proceedings are covered live and aired to viewers on a specific channel, while in Rwanda, a special unit covers the proceedings and provides the press with recordings.

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