By Alpha Femi “I weep for the liberty of my country when I see at this early day of its successful experiment that corruption has been imputed to many members of the House of Representatives, and the rights of the people have been bartered for promises of office”. These are the famous words of America’s seventh president Andrew Wilson (1829–1837) about the conduct of the United States House Commons, a state of affairs that now mirrors the affairs of our own National Assembly. Renowned English musician and actor Raymond Douglas “Ray” Davies couldn’t have put it better when he said “Money and corruption are ruining the land, crooked politicians betray the working man, pocketing the profits and treating us like sheep… we’re tired of hearing promises that we know they’ll never keep.” His statement symbolises how low the Kenyan Parliament has sunk; it has been converted into a House of deals and for hire, where any person or institution can buy and influence the outcome of what is to be tabled or debated. Nothing epitomises this sad tale like the disbanding of the Public Accounts Committee in April when MPs turned on each other, exposing their dirty tricks of blackmail, extortion and bribery. The National Assembly resolved to send the Ababu Namwamba-led committee packing following a report and recommendations of the Powers and Privileges Committee, which had investigated PAC’s scandalous affairs of enriching themselves through extortion and blackmail. That was the beginning of the exposure of misconduct by MPs, with Namwamba sensationally claiming that he was being fixed by other members engaged in corruption for refusing to play ball. Among the claims brought to the fore were that suspended Defence Principal Secretary Mutea Iringo had bribed members of the committee to have his name removed from a report on corruption in his former station at the Interior Ministry. An Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission report named 26 MPs for allegedly receiving Sh1.5 million from Iringo, to expunge his name from the report for unexplained expenditure while he worked at Office of the President. MPs are supposed to play the crucial role of providing checks and balances to other government institutions but with questions being raised about their watchdog role, the electorate has almost zero faith in their fidelity now. Through the years, several nationwide surveys have shown that personal integrity of MPs continues to dwindle – such as the ones conducted by Transparency International between 2005 and 2013. In the first one conducted in 2005, 8 out of every 10 Kenyans believed that most MPs were corrupt. The trend has not changed as shown by recent surveys, with the current ratings of parliament being at its lowest. What makes it worse is that despite the glaring culture of corruption which has even been acknowledged by the MPs themselves, they will not allow any independent institution to come in and investigate the mischief and public plundering they engage in while in parliament. It is what has given the notion that when it comes to punishing corruption, MPs should not be allowed to hide behind their in-House processes. Statement that infuriated MPs It is, perhaps, with this foresight that Speaker Justin Muturi is on record as saying that there was no way the MPs can demand for accountability from other institutions when there is a rot from within Parliament. Reports from insiders at Parliament have it that some committees deliberately delay tabling reports in the National Assembly and use their findings to blackmail those under investigation. There are so many personal and vested interests that influence how MPs debate issues and conduct affairs of their committees which most of the time end up with skewed recommendations to protect those being investigated. When allegations of corruption were brought up in the construction of the multi-billion shillings standard gauge railways, the Public Investments and Transport committee was divided down the middle, leading to two parallel investigations. Both teams gave the project a clean bill of health, with the PIC only adding that the project should proceed on condition the government hired an independent consultant to review the design and oversee construction. Soon after the Public Accounts Committee endured all claims of bribery and extortion, another watchdog Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Co-operatives was in the thick of public storm for allegedly receiving Sh60 million from former directors of Mumias Sugar Limited to steer investigations in their favour. Members of the committee led by Mandera North MP Adan Noor were said to have received the bribe to expunge the names of the former managers from their report of irregularities and financial scam in the sugar sector. Kakamega Senator Bonny Khalwale, once vocal on calling for prosecution of those alleged to have brought Mumias Sugar down, faced the wrath of mourners last month when he was heckled for allegedly receiving a bribe to stop fighting sugar imports. The ability of MPs to conduct their oversight role over government and other institutions continues to be eroded by the constant claims of extortion and bribery in house committees, and it is not strange to hear claims of MPs threatening to expose something if they are not paid off. The situation is not, however new, as each election year brings in new leaders with a “get rich quickly” attitude, who will jump at any opportunity to enrich themselves. A case in point is the 2012 members of the Parliamentary Committee on Health, whose investigation into alleged corruption and mismanagement of a civil servants’ medical cover scheme ended on a sour note with MP Robert Monda receiving death threats after he tabled the final report in the house. For tribe and party One issue influencing how MPs debate and make recommendations are political parties’ affiliations, where the members will do anything to defend their party in the hope getting favours. According to a report by the Institute for Social Accountability (TISA), party politics is a major stumbling block to the ability of MPs to carry out their duties and that it is difficult for legislators to address corruption when those implicated are their tribal or political allies. In 2014, Igembe South MP Mithika Linturi caught public attention through his widely publicised intention to file an impeachment motion against Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru. Amid the storm, Linturi was accused by pro-Waiguru legislators that he was being used by some officials at the Deputy President’s office to oust Ms Waiguru. But after collecting almost 200 signatures from fellow MPs to support the motion, he suddenly withdrew it, prompting the notion that he had been paid off. It was not until April this year that Linturi confessed in the National Assembly that he had been prevailed upon to drop the motion. Linturi revealed that Waiguru called him twice and used Runyenjes MP Cecily Mbarire and Kareke Mbiuki (Maara Constituency) to arrange a meeting with her (Waiguru), and later with the President and his deputy, where he was prevailed upon to drop the impeachment motion. Last month, Waiguru survived another impeachment motion spearheaded by Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter. Perhaps with time, he, like Linturi, will confess. Leader of Majority Aden Duale was once in the thick of an impeachment motion by a section of Central Kenya MPs who accused him of reneging on his promise to release names of suspected financiers of Al-Shabaab. Kieni MP Kanini Kega was the chief mobiliser and convened a press conference to announce his intention to sponsor a censure motion against Duale. Bsoon after, word had it that he was secretly sweet-talked and the censure motion died after it generated political tension between the coalition partners. In his book, “The Politics of Betrayal: Diary of a Kenyan Legislator”, Former Bahari MP Joe Khamisi goes into details of how MPs are bribed to pass Bills in Parliament. Khamisi narrates how he was approached in 2004 by a Cabinet minister to support a Bill in exchange for a job for a relative and “fuel money”, a trend which continues to bedevil Parliament. “The bribe was to be in the form of “fuel money” and employment for a relative who had to be a university graduate. The minister was worried that the Bill was unpopular among MPs and feared it could be defeated,” he says in his book. According to Khamisi, his answer will be a resounding “ses” if anyone asked if, on any given day, MPs are paid to table questions, support, or oppose motions and make committee recommendations in the House. He adds that it is not a secret that dirty money in brown envelopes is routinely exchanged within the corridors of the National Assembly, and that some of it is casually stuffed in pigeon holes for MPs to pick at will. “With a fee of only several thousand shillings, an interested party can buy an MP’s vote on any issue. MPs are bought not only to ask questions, but also not to ask questions. Attracted to an easy source of revenue, some MPs raise questions to intimidate intended stakeholders,” Khamisi writes.