SPECIAL REPORT A HOUSE OF DEALS

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A House of deals

In interviews with MPs and parliamentary staff, one gets the view that fraud is entrenched, considered normal

By ALFAROUK MAALIM

 

For the first time in the history of Kenya’s Parliament, a senior member of the sanctum sanctorum of the august House has blown the whistle regarding the rampant corruption that pervades the corridors of power.

The Deputy Leader of Minority Party, Mr Jakoyo Midiwo – a former Chief Whip, and Gem MP serving his third term – is shocked at the audacity with which new and old MPs alike have turned parliamentary committees into extortion rackets. “There is corruption!”

The telling thing is that no one had asked Midiwo about it. He volunteered. Midiwo, who that day sat next to the Leader of Majority Party Aden Duale, said the level of extortion, bribery and misuse of public resources was unprecedented. “There’s corruption. It’s creeping back in a much bigger way, and is reincarnated in younger people and that is a shameful thing.  I can tell you as somebody who has been in Parliament for over 10 years, that it was never like that,” said Midiwo.

Midiwo sits in the House Business Committee – the powerful team that sets the House agenda. He is privy to the decision-making in the House, and inevitably, he would know the deep secrets only whispered in the corridors of power or behind the closed doors when the powerful meet.

For a man who a fortnight before that day had threatened to “name and shame” his colleagues for corrupt deals, Midiwo’s utterances lifted the lid on the rot in the House committees.

In off-the-record interviews with MPs and parliamentary staff, one gets the view that the practice is well-entrenched, to an extent that it is considered normal.  MPs who granted the interviews sought anonymity because of the pending reprisal that awaits Midiwo in the House over the public allegations. The staff did not go on record for fear of being sacked.

Midiwo spoke about how quorum in the committees scuttles investigations against the mighty and powerful. He mentioned how some MPs circumvent procedure, hurriedly issue summons against State officers, and go ahead to blackmail the same State officers to give them bribes.

The MPs also employ the same tactic against contractors who win tenders.

“You have MPs in a committee reading an article to summon the minister, they do it in such a hurry that when you see it, you know there’s something behind it, actually, it is rent-seeking,” said Midiwo.

He revealed that the report of Public Accounts Committee (PAC)  on the luxury jet hired for the Deputy President early last year was deliberately being delayed, because some MPs were under instructions not to give the committee quorum to adopt the report.

“Let us stop this nonsense of looking Kenyans in the eye to deceive them about corrupt deals, because it is their money,” said Midiwo.

There are also MPs who shamelessly push their committees to institute parallel investigations into issues already being investigated by a different committee. The notorious one in this cadre is the Public Investments Committee (PIC), which pretends to investigate anything. The PIC is by parliamentary practice a watchdog committee that works with the Auditor General to keep an eye on the state corporations. It depends on the report of the Auditor General to push the corporations to respond.

But, with an aggressive chairman in Adan Keynan, the MP for Eldas, the PIC has fought the Transport and Public Works Committee over the investigations into the Sh447-billion standard gauge railway tender.

It has also twice fought the Energy, Communication and Information Committee, first over the Kenya Petroleum Refinery Limited probe, and later over the procurement and policy malpractices at the Geothermal Development Corporation.

In a chat with two members of the Transport team, The Nairobi Law Monthly, was told about how the entry of PIC into the standard gauge railway probe in the National Assembly was engineered in an out-of-town meeting attended by senior officials in the House. The MPs claimed that there was a curious coincidence in the timing of a Speaker’s ruling –Justin Muturi ruled that PIC and Transport can proceed with their respective probes separately—and the sojourn of the top officials.

When the PIC was investigating the National Cereals and Produce Board, a powerful MP approached a colleague whose name had been dragged into the matter. The powerful MP sought Sh10 million so that the probe is frustrated but the colleague declined.

One of the top officials also revealed how a letter that the Energy, Communication and Information Committee wanted sent to invite the Geothermal Development Corporation (GDC) chief, went missing and instead he was invited to PIC.

It was difficult to verify these claims, because, officially, there’s no record. However, MPs who sit in the Energy Committee told The Nairobi Law Monthly that they were shocked to learn that the PIC had pulled the rug from under their feet, and invited the GDC.

But it is the standard gauge railway probe that is shocking. Insiders familiar with the deal revealed how the Transport Committee made a trip to China, to investigate the deal. At that time, there was a whiff that the multi-billion shillings railway tender was flawed, but no complaint had been launched formally. The delegation met the boss of China Road and Bridge Corporation – the President of the firm that won the tender for the 486-km railway – Wen Gang, the VP of the firm Du Fei, the General Manager of the Kenya Office and other senior officials of the firm.

The delegation also honoured a date with China’s Vice-Minister of Transport, Feng Zhenglin and the VP of China Communications Construction Company Limited Chen Yusheng. CRBC is a subsidiary of CCCC Ltd, the Chinese government’s parent company for overseas development. The meetings, according to CRBC, took place on October 30 and October 31 in Beijing.

The delegation came back thrilled. But some members of his committee were not happy at having been left out.

Curiously, those unhappy got heavy allowances to attend the launch of the project in Mombasa, say sources. Midiwo believes the Transport committee was already compromised. “What did an investigative committee go to China to do? Why were they meeting with the person they are investigating? If I am investigating you and I am a police officer, why would I be in a restaurant eating with you; that’s my thought process,” said Midiwo.

It was telling when Duale, who sat next to Midiwo, tried to intervene and say the Transport Committee did not go to China to investigate the railway, because the question had not been raised.

According to insiders in Parliament, some MPs have perfected the art of going behind the scenes to find “lucrative skunk” in government parastatals, ministries and in procurement processes. These MPs then approach losing bidders, and offer to ask queries in the House, at a price.

The queries spawn parliamentary inquests and open doors for kickbacks to committee members in exchange for a favourable report.

So, when PIC delegation went to China, insiders say, there were questions regarding the railway deal pending in the Speaker’s office and in the Majority Leader’s office. A fortnight after the delegation returned, the question was asked. Transport Committee chair Maina Kamanda promised to respond in two weeks. That did not happen. In a show of support for the project, he attended its launch.

It’s at this point that PIC came in. The two committees summoned the same group of officials and asked similar questions. It was plain duplication.

“(Corruption in Parliament) manifests itself in the committees, when you see one chair being aggressive to investigate alone when issues are cross-cutting, when you need to have a joint committee, just know there’s something,” said Midiwo.

“If you have one Cabinet Secretary going to one committee in the morning, and another committee in the afternoon to answer to the same issues (just know there is something),” added the Deputy Minority Leader.

Fraternizing with suspects of unethical governance practices has also been cited as the hallmark for the MPs.

Asked if Cabinet ministers have given bribes to MPs, Midiwo said: “It has happened many times!”

For Midiwo, the acme of that illegal liaison was when two House committees – the Administration and National Security committee; and the Defence and Foreign Relations Committee – that were investigating Westgate terror attack dropped their guard and exonerated the military of theft, only for them to be left with an egg on their face.

Midiwo sits in the committee, and as soon as Asman Kamama (chairman, National Security team) and Ndung’u Gethenji (chairman, Defence team) claimed the military was “never involved in looting at Westgate” Mall, he knew the report was useless.

“I wouldn’t have signed something so crooked. I refused to go to those meetings the day the two chairmen appeared on national television in a press conference to exonerate the Kenya Defence Forces,” Midiwo said.

 Then the committee was invited by KDF to Department of Defence Headquarters in Nairobi’s Kilimani area, for a tour. “When I asked, ‘what we are going to do there, they said ‘for a familiarization tour’. I did not go!”

He added: “We were investigating one of the biggest criminal activities ever to have faced our country from terrorists and the people whose names are conspicuously missing from the recommendations were supposed to have lunch with us. I can tell you, that is wrong. I said, if everyone is going, then let me stay so that my conscience is clear’”

When the report came, there was no adverse recommendation against the military. There was none against the National Intelligence Service. And there was none against the Police. Instead, there were vague proposals that something should be done urgently to stop future attacks.

“When you see a committee of Parliament spending the taxpayers’ money and tabling a report that even a ten-year-old child will tell you that this report is not satisfactory, what do you think happened” posed Midiwo.

The MPs deploy their drivers, bodyguards and personal assistants to do the transactions for them. All they have to do is to make a call, introduce their emissary and then wait.

In the Tenth Parliament, Dr Oburu Oginga, then Finance assistant minister, once told the National Assembly how an MP attempted to extort Sh6.6 million from a tobacco company suspected of tax evasion and smuggling. The MP in question was the then Mutito lawmaker Kiema Kilonzo. He pleaded with the Speaker to have the whole matter expunged from the records of the House because he was innocent.

Still in that Parliament, the then chairman of the PAC Boni Khalwale had sensationally revealed how a company that his committee was investigating, had sent one MP with Sh1 million for the committee, when the team was writing its report. Khalwale’s team rejected the money, wrote the report, but when it came to the House, the MPs were bribed with at least Sh30,000 to vote against it. They did.

Clearly, this is not the first time, and neither is it the last that accusations of corruption will hang around the necks of MPs. While it is clear that they have no capacity to carry out forensic audits, the MPs often write reports and the standard recommendation is usually “the Ethics and Anti-corruption should investigate further, and those found culpable should be prosecuted”.

MPs are however allowed to hire consultants on matters that they do not understand. Very few have sought those services.

 

 

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