The role of parliamentarians is firstly to represent their constituents, and secondly to check on (oversight) of the executive arm of government and lawmaking.
In undertaking their representation role, MPs are expected to champion the interests of their constituents and seek to intervene in cases where those interests are being curtailed or restricted.
In sub-Saharan Africa, where natural resources form the principal source of livelihood for most citizens, the way the natural resources are managed and used are of very real significance. The manner in which laws and policies over natural resources are made and the contents of such laws are issues that should concern not only citizens but also their representatives in parliament.
Due to this clear nexus between representation and natural resource management, ILEG carried out a study to analyze whether the members of parliament have successfully performed the role of championing their constituents’ environmental interests.
To present an accurate picture of the legal and policy environment and the practice of MP representation of their constituents’ environmental interests, ILEG incorporated a case study of Nyakach constituency. This choice was deliberate and significant in articulating typical legislative environmental representation in Kenya owing to the controversy and debate involving the development of a hydroelectric power generation project in Nyakach constituency, the Sondu-Miriu power project.
The study was part of a wider project carried out in Several African countries under the coordination of a US-based institution, the World Resources Institute. ILEG was responsible for the Kenyan component of the project. The study used a typology based on a four-fold criteria to analyze incentives and disincentives for Kenyan MPs to effectively represent the environmental interests of their constituents. These criteria are;
- Accountability: Does the MP give feedback and explain decisions and actions to the constituents?
- Autonomy: Is the MP able to make independent decisions without fear of rebuke or punishment from the Executive, party or powerful individuals?
- Authority: Are MPs legally empowered to do their representation work?
- Attributes: How does the MPs individual character, e.g. MPs background as a democracy proponent, environmentalist, education etc, influence a representative actions and decisions.
The overall findings of the study were published in a report - MP Representation in Legislative Environmental Legislation - pointed towards a negative and gloomy verdict none the less one that is tempered by drastic positive political developments especially in strengthening governance institutions and improving engagements with civil society.
With regard to accountability, three findings stand out; one, vertical accountability is compromised by inadequate knowledge and awareness of the environment and environmental policies and their link with development and the welfare of rural constituents. Two, save for elections, there are no legally institutionalized mechanisms (like recall, compulsory constituency visits, performance evaluation). Three, both MPs and constituents do not fully appreciate the role of parliamentarians.
Likewise three main findings were made in respect to autonomy. The first and main problem is attributed to the inordinately enormous powers vested in the Executive, without corresponding legally empowered and autonomous horizontal accountability institutions.
This has led to misuse of Executive power to intimidate and influence MPs, thereby compromising representation. Secondly, the weak ideological foundation of parties’ and policy framework breed undemocratic tendencies that militate against independence of MPs and effective representation. Thirdly, tribal and sectarian interests tend to override constituency concerns in the determination of election outcomes.