Budget 2021/22: Little-Known Incident Behind Heavy Security Around Briefcase

To understand the heavy security around the budget briefcase, we'd have to go back to 24 years ago where contents of a budget speech were restricted to a select few. 

Budget 2021/22: Little-Known Incident Behind Heavy Security Around Briefcase

When Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani made his way to Parliament from Treasury buildings, many Kenyans questioned the beefed-up security that walked with him everywhere he went with the symbolic briefcase containing the country's budget.

They questioned in their numbers how a briefcase containing a speech with largely known contents was accorded the security akin to that of a Head of State or celebrity.

To understand this, we'd have to go back to 24 years ago where contents of a budget speech were restricted to a select few. 

Musalia Mudavadi, who was then the Finance Minister witnessed an incident in 1997 that began the annual routine of guarding the briefcase heavily. By then, the opposition was calling for the Constitution to be changed for purposes of assuring a free and fair election.

ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi. /FILE

A team of legislators from the opposition, led by the late Michael Kijana Wamalwa devised a clever idea to get former President Daniel arap Moi's attention, the dare to disrupt the budget reading by all means necessary.

"When I got to parliament, I could feel that there was a problem and you walk in and as you move around, people are looking at you as if they know something about you. As if something is about to happen to you but no one is telling you.

"When I walked in, there was applause from the government side but jeers from the opposing side," Mudavadi told KTN News in a previous interview.

Kijana Wamalwa would be aided by fellow opposition leaders Martin Shikuku and former President Mwai Kibaki. But they were not ready to lead the disruption.

Instead, they contracted current Siaya County Senator James Orengo to start the disruption, and he didn't disappoint.

Opposition leaders had placards cleverly concealed in their pockets, having made them prior to the disruption. They unfurled them, and began chanting loudly 'no reforms, no budget'.

"I would read a line or two and they would start creating chaos. Some members were even thrown out. I was reading extremely fast and the members continued chanting," Mudavadi added.

The late Moi was in his house, witnessing the events unfold. The sergeant at arms, at one point, had to call in reinforcements to protect the mace.

The Opposition MPs daringly attempted to grab the mace which would have put a stop to the parliamentary session which they very much wanted.

Mudavadi took home some lessons as the Finance Minister, one of them being the mandatory several copies of the speech in case something happened.

"It is that year that we learnt that if they can stop you in the house, they can also stop you from outside. That is when the tradition of escorting the Minister for Finance started because before, one did not need to have a motorcade or even the police escorting you."

The protests, however, served their purpose. Moi surrendered and allowed for minimum reforms under the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG). 

Part of the reforms changed how electoral commissioners would be selected and are largely attributed to the success of the 2002 general election. 

Today, the briefcase is protected under heavy security so much that roads surrounding Parliament are sealed off during the budget day to ease movement to and from Parliament.

“In order to facilitate ease of movement during budget reading for members of Parliament and Senate as well as executives from Treasury, the following roads will be closed between 1:00pm and 5:30pm,” Nairobi Regional Commissioner James Kianda announced in a statement to the public on Thursday, June 10.

These roads are; Harambee Avenue, Parliament Road, Taifa Road and City Hall Way.

Aerial view of Parliament buildings in Nairobi. /FILE