You were elected as the new Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman in April this year. There are other committees that you would have gone for. Ambition aside, why did you go for PAC specifically?
Chief among my reasons are the circumstances that led to the dissolution of the former PAC and the potential of negativity impacting on MPs’ work, combined with the stereotyping of MPs as people driven by self-interest. The actions of some members of the former PAC went against the tenets of public service. I want to demonstrate that the leadership of the committee ought to be a lot less self-serving.
Do you believe that you are this person, this one who is not self-serving?
Yes, I do. PAC is a gatekeeper, ensuring that government resources are applied lawfully and rightly. I believe in pursuing this goal as an individual but with the collaboration of a cohesive committee. All the successes should be for the committee – we ought to work as a team and not for the individual.
Have you done that?
As at now, we speak as a team. I recognise that each individual brings to the table a uniqueness that can be blended with the agenda of moving the committee forward.
When you came in, your starting point included investigations into the Judiciary and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. In July, you instructed the CJ Dr Willy Mutunga to refund Sh1.56 million he was irregularly paid as leave allowance. Your committee also instructed the DPP to start the prosecution of former Chief Registrar Gladys Shollei for overseeing the loss of over Sh2.2 billion at the Judiciary. How bad was the misappropriation at the Judiciary?
You must understand the background – where the judiciary was coming from. Ordinarily, the order of government funding was such that the judiciary was third, after the Executive and the Legislature. However, when the mandate of the Judiciary expanded, Parliament revised the funding of the Judiciary to about five times in only two financial years. The Judiciary, it seems, did not have the right structures to deal with this increase in funding. The reconstituted institution was, and still is, in our view, a good idea. It seems that its leadership [Dr Mutunga, Nancy Baraza (his former deputy) and Shollei (sacked Chief Registrar] and team had no requisite expertise to handle this kind of resource base.
What progress have you made?
Our part was to point out the misdeeds. Our inquiries and reports show that. I think the Judiciary is doing a lot in terms of internal assessment. I think they are working on it. A lot of these are not individual problems. They are systematic problems. It is my belief that the Judiciary knows what the problem is. As to deciding what to do and how to deal with the problem, well, that is another matter altogether.
Several scandals have come to light in the past six months. Most of those tend to be first heard about from PAC. Why weren’t these misdeeds being exposed in the past?
It has everything to do with the shifts in the workings of PAC. In the past, PAC was like a mortician, dealing with issues that were five, 10 years old or more. Today, we are like doctors and surgeons, dealing with contemporary issues that are months or weeks old, or ongoing. Culpability is obtainable unlike in the past where the committee would be looking at files of public servants who were no longer serving. We don’t take the reports, sign them in and keep them. We open them and ask questions when the contents of the files do not make sense.
This Parliament has overseen the appointment of some of the most disastrous public servants – Joseph ole Lenku, Anne Waiguru and Joseph Nkaissery come to mind. The National Assembly debated and approved these appointments. Is Parliament missing something?
Personally, I think that the constitutional mandate that allows the appointment of ministers or cabinet secretaries from outside the House is wrong. Some of these people were junior officers and I think that the sooner the country realises that the cabinet secretaries who believe that they are serving at the pleasure of the President are wrong, the sooner we will start to get somewhere.
You sound like you have an issue with Cabinet Secretaries or their offices…
No. This is nothing personal; just the reality. Some ministries are too large. Consider Devolution and Planning, for instance. That single unit is a collage of around seven or so ministries from the previous government. I do not think Anne Waiguru had what it takes to run it. Anne Waiguru and other Cabinet Secretaries are overwhelmed by the responsibilities at hand. And that is not their only problem: They are detached from reality; they lack the right background in terms of experience, and, for some, qualification. But worst of all, some of them are still in the dreamland where they found themselves upon being confirmed. They still can’t believe they are cabinet secretaries, and are probably still pinching themselves to confirm that it is real – the power, influence, police escort and the perks. They just cannot continue in dreamland after three years.
So, what to do?
Two things for me: ministers or cabinet secretaries should be elected by the public, and we can still consider splitting some of those ministries.
That still does not answer the original question; is Parliament missing something?
I think it is not about what Parliament missed or is missing. It is about what it did. Members of Parliament allied to Jubilee at first thought it was an anathema to go against President Uhuru and his deputy. No disrespect, but back then, they were voting machines. They are regretting some of the decisions that they made then and I can positively tell you that they are quite objective right now.
It is not uncommon to hear the President tell an MP to drop some controversial matter. Does the Executive interfere with the oversight role of Parliament?
I have said it before and will do so now; some of the actions of this Executive border on meddling. A lot of our laws are written in State House. Hardly a week goes by before the President refers a bill back to Parliament. The sad part is that the referrals involve complete re-writing of the bills. To me, this is meddlesome and mischievous.
Can something be done about this?
Members of Parliament can. In fact, they are already doing something about it. The reality of the murky situation is dawning on all MPs. You can see it with the Waiguru impeachment motion. It is not even being spearheaded by Cord.
Talking about the presidency usurping powers of oversight bodies, are constitutional commissions like the National Land or the National Police Service Commissions any good? It is obvious that these commissions can bark but can’t bite.
We thought that commissions would be independent and have independent functions. That is not the case today. The presidency is very uncomfortable with them. Look at the conflicts between the Land Commission and the ministry of Land; it is total chaos. The other problem is that we have too many commissions with overlapping roles.
In January 2015, National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi said that MPs were using Parliamentary committees to run extortion schemes and bribery rings. Are those allegations true, it being that you head one such committee?
I can’t speak for Muturi. I believe he knows that nobody is above the law. If such things were happening, they would fall under criminal activity, and they should be handled in a constitutional way. I also can’t cluster the entire group of committees as being involved; that would be unfair. Some people in these committees mean well. There are members of the House who, in the face of stringent deadlines, can leave Parliament at one or two in the morning. That is true dedication. Unfortunately, we never get to hear about such things. My point is that a lot of MPs mean well but that is not to say that all of them mean well. Black sheep are not unique to Kenya.
Revelations of misappropriation like the one that took place in Devolution and Planning Ministry, do they shock you?
They do. And they upset me too. The attitude of public servants upsets me. How can they do those things? I am a Kenyan and I know that a pen costs Sh25. You can’t tell me that you bought the same pen for Sh8,000! This country is deficient in so many ways… roads, health care, education… we still lack in these areas. Such misappropriation as was witnessed in the Devolution ministry ought to generate national outrage.
At least the National Youth Service Director Nelson Githinji caved in to pressure and stepped aside while the Planning Principal Secretary Peter Mangiti is still in office but both have been formally arraigned…
I think that those two are not the real culprits. The two stepping aside or being arraigned is just a scratch on the surface of a much bigger problem. The real culprits of these scams are yet to show their faces.
You have gathered quite some momentum. What is the future of the PAC?
Observing strict fidelity to the law. The pronouncements from PAC will upset some and be welcome to some. That is human nature. We will move forward, above self-interest and above the fray. Right is right and wrong is wrong. We shall call everything as it is.
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