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Move to reject Public Order Bill shameful

By Editorial Team
Friday, February 12th, 2021
Members of Parliament during a session. PD/FILE
In summary

Members of the National Assembly yesterday shot down the Public Order Act (amendment) Bill that sought to criminalise destruction of property during public demonstrations.

According to its drafters, the principal object of the Bill was to amend the Act to make provision for organisers of public gatherings or processions leading to loss of property, life or earnings, to take responsibility and compensate the affected persons and businesses.

The Bill proposed that individuals found guilty of causing grievous harm or damage to property or loss of earnings should be jailed for six years or pay a Sh100,000 fine.

But the MPs who rejected the Bill said it would be subject to abuse and may be used to abrogate fundamental freedoms, especially the right to public assembly and picketing.

The major argument has been, and correctly so, that it is the mandate of the police to protect lives and property.

There are those who argue that police license demonstrations on the basis of two considerations: That they will be available to provide security and the venue is suitable for public safety.

However, it has been demonstrated now and again that goons have been taking advantage of protests to cause chaos and vandalise property.  

Many businesses have been closed and livelihoods destroyed due to violence during protests. 

The fact that such criminal activity continues to be experienced means there is not a sufficient deterrence mechanism either in the law or enforcement.

While the lawmakers could have had good reason to reject the Bill, their interest in the matter can barely be disguised. They are the major culprits. 

A number of surveys have revealed politicians have frequently mobilised gangs of youths for self-protection or for unleashing against opponents.

There are also documented cases in which irresponsible politicians have incited supporters to destroy private property in the name of protests.

We are still nervous by findings of the Global Initiative released two months ago which warned that politicians have been assembling gangs ahead of the 2022 General Election. It boils down to impunity. 

Politicians called out for inciting violence during which property is destroyed always go unpunished. Indeed, they rush to police stations to bail out goons arrested for theft and vandalism.

It is ironical that individuals who earn taxpayers money to pass laws that protect private property would reject attempts to safeguard the same property.

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