BY JARED JUMA
This National Assembly, the entire component of it, both leadership and membership, is a disgrace. The levels of mediocrity oozing from within its premises, including from the floor of the House and from within its various committees is, to say the least, confounding – from wheeler dealing to outright soliciting for bribes to sexual impropriety.
For purposes of clarity, let us today just focus on the accelerated corruption especially as manifested in the very important committees of the National Assembly, and skip the philandering escapades of the honourable Members that most of the time border on gender violence, for another day.
Even here, we need, again for purposes of clarity, to narrow it down. It is so rampant you cannot comprehensively delve into it in a single piece. We will narrow it to corruption in the committees of the House, and down further to the most important and powerful – Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – under the leadership of the very eloquent but presently besieged, Ababu Namwamba.
The truest test of democracy, according to the website of Parliament of the Republic of South Africa, is the extent to which Parliament can ensure that government remains answerable to the people. This, it says, is done by maintaining constant oversight of government’s actions.
Parliament has the power, granted by the Constitution, to oversight all organs of state. When exercising its oversight, Parliament focuses on implementation of laws, application of budgets, observance of laws of Parliament and the Constitution and, effective management of government departments.
Parliament carries out these functions through committees of the House. PAC, in particular, ensures value for money. It is concerned with the economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the expenditure of government departments.
The watchdog is critical in enforcing improved financial accountability, fighting fraud and corruption and promoting good governance in the public sector. It is a function core to the very existence of a democracy. It is a function Namwamba and company and, the entire National Assembly, has not only failed to perform, but done so disgracefully.
Two years into this parliamentary term, the Namwamba-led committee has hardly tabled any report on the floor of the House for debate. Never mind that the committee has gobbled up millions of taxpayers’ money in sitting allowances. The chair in particular has been globetrotting in his capacity as committee head under the pretext of seeking best practices and investigations.
For the entire while, it is now revealed, committee members were pocketing bribes from would-be accused in the many scandals that have dogged this government, and whose files were before the watchdog for investigation.
The source and confirmation of this damning revelation is the committee chair through his infamous recording of members that he intended to use for purposes of absolving himself.
The saddest development out of the whole soap opera is that the whistle blowing by some of the committee members that brought the rot in the committee to the fore was not out of civic duty but merely from fallout in sharing of the spoils. Had the conduits in the committee for the implicated government fat cats keen on obstructing justice played by the rules of the game and shared the spoils without being greedy, nothing would have sufficed to put PAC on the spot.
Namwamba has been waltzing lyrics as to want to take the credit for whistle blowing. Listening to the Budalangi MP grandstand in his bid to clear his name, one is left wondering if he was a bystander in the committee, and not the chairman. Where is the leadership in the committee?
Members of the committee have, in the public glare, accused their chair of being corrupt and receiving bribes to the tune of millions of shillings from those accused in some of the economic crimes under scrutiny by the committee. Backstage, the same members have decried their chair for “eating alone”. The committee’s deputy chair has been labeled as the major conduit for the scam.
Namwamba, on the other hand, has worked tirelessly to prove that it was his members, not himself, that have been paid. The price for these alleged bribes; the committee should alter their reports by removing names of those who have bribed them so as to absolve them of any crimes.
Just how bad can it get as to make Kenyans rise up against bad governance like in the October 2014 Burkinabe Uprising and say no to this sleaze?
Prior to and after appearing before the Privileges Committee, Namwamba orchestrated a fierce media campaign in which he touted his alleged recording of a conversation between himself, his party leader Raila Odinga and some of PAC members from his ODM party, as the turning point of the investigations.
Listening to the recording, the only thing you get is a confirmation, in fact a confession that indeed committee members received money from a mandarin for purposses of ridding his name from the adverse report. Does that absolve Namwamba from blame? Is it enough for him to raise head up and be proud as chair of the beleaguered committee? The recording may not implicate the chair but is it a comprehensive piece of evidence in an investigation as to confirm he is clean?
Besides, recording people in a conversation does not augur well for a leader of the level of PAC chair. It may make one a hero, but it is short-lived. In the long run, you lose trust of people you may need to work with. This may just be what will break the camel’s back in Namwamba’s career as a politician.
To understand to what extent the institution of the National Assembly has grown thick skin to integrity issues where MPs are involved, you need to interrogate the interventions of the Speaker of the National Assembly into bribery allegations and altering of reports in PAC. Unless MPs are above the law, this was an issue for the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the police especially after the chair of the committee handed him a recording in which members confirmed receiving bribes on behalf of the entire commission.
Instead, Justin Muturi ordered another committee of the House, Powers and Privileges Committee to probe the grave issues in PAC. It is like a father ordering a son to investigate his twin brother where a neighbour accuses the latter of thievery. Too, those accused of bribing members of PAC are senior influential officials of government, same one that enjoys majority in the House.
What results would you expect from this kind of process?
Most recently, the Committee on Agriculture has been mentioned in another scandal in its investigation of Mumias Sugar Company. Members allegedly pocketed Sh60 million in bribes.
Two years back, a committee of this House on Administration and National Security absolved Kenya Defense Forces of looting allegations during an operation to contain terror at Westgate mall. They arrived at the conclusion without interviewing any of the business people who had incurred losses at the ill-fated mall. Two weeks later, footage of CCTV cameras emerged showing KDF carrying away merchandise from within the mall. To explain away the development, the crestfallen members of the committee claimed soldiers had only carried away bottled water to quench their thirst.
You can fool some people some time but you cannot fool all the people all the time. A day is on the way when Kenyans will rise to the occasion, in public fury, to say enough is enough. The status quo will run but will have nowhere to hide.