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Kenya: Parliament to Criminalize Use of Wrong Title to Address Top Government Officials

(May 9, 2014) Kenya’s Parliament is considering a bill, the Order of Precedence Bill, 2014, which, among other goals, is aimed at “providing a yardstick for determining the proper position of all officer[s], their seniority and hierarchy for the purpose of state functions.” (Jeremiah Kiplang’at, You Risk Sh2m Fine Not Calling MP ‘Honourable’, DAILY NATION (Apr. 24, 2014).) If enacted in its current form, the legislation will establish twelve ranks for high government officials, with the head of state at the top and chairpersons of constitutional commissions at the bottom. (Order of Precedence Bill, 2014, § 4, KENYA GAZETTE SUPPLEMENT No. 32 (NATIONAL ASSEMBLY BILLS No. 11) (Mar. 21, 2014), National Council for Law Reporting website.)

Significantly, the legislation (which reportedly stems from a struggle for status between members of parliament and governors) will put members of parliament ahead of governors, Supreme Court justices, judges of the Court of Appeal, former heads of state, ambassadors and cabinet secretaries, among others, in the pecking order. (Id.; Kenya MPs in Status Battle with Governors, BBC NEWS AFRICA (Apr. 24, 2014).) Similarly, the legislation establishes titles parallel to the ranks of high government officials in which the title “Excellency” will be used to refer only to the head of state; his/her deputy and that person’s spouse and members of parliament will be addressed as “Honourable,” while a governor will simply be referred to as “the Governor.” (Order of Precedence Bill, § 6.)

Although the ranks do not appear to have much substantive value, their violation by a government official or citizens would be punishable under the proposed law. Other than defining how to refer to government officials, determining seating charts at government functions, and other matters of protocol, the ranks have no bearing on succession of duties, on the presidential line of succession, or on the status of the different branches of government under the Constitution. (Id. § 4.) Nonetheless, any state or public officer who violates the provisions of the legislation “though his or her disobedience, disregard, abuse, neglect or negligence,” commits an offence, which on conviction is punishable by a fine ranging in amount from KES 1 to 2 million (about US$11,474 – $22,948) and/or at least a one-year prison term. (Id. § 7.) Any other person who violates the provisions of the legislation is, on conviction, subject to similar penalties. (Id.)

The legislation also limits the right to use the national flag and sirens on motorcades to only the head of state, his/her deputy, the speakers of Parliament, and the Chief Justice. (Id. § 5.) Anyone who violates this provision is subject on conviction to penalties similar to those described above. (Id.)