It is not surprising that Cabinet Secretaries have become ‘angry’ enough to formally complain about the time they waste attending grilling sessions by parliamentary committees. Rather, it is amazing they had to put up with it for so long, even though it is bound to generate rage within the ‘honourable’ fraternity and trigger the urge to have them (CSs) sacked.
While the oversight role of Parliament as intended by the constitution is indeed noble, the current Parliament has abdicated that role and instead chosen to harass CSs and government officials either for political reasons, for pampering their egos or for personal gain.
Some MPs and senators in these committees revel in humiliating government officers in the full glare of TV cameras with questions that are either superfluous or unhelpful to the cause at hand. Others appear ignorant of the subject they are quizzing the officers on. Either way, the most annoying thing is that these officers, including CSs, are summoned too often by diverse committees of the National Assembly and the Senate that are purportedly investigating the same matter. Why answers given to one committee would not suffice is anybody’s guess.
It is not logical, for example, for the Treasury CS to appear before various committees of the National Assembly and at least one of the Senate, to answer questions related to the commitment of the Eurobond proceeds. Not only do these legislators waste public funds by keeping CS Henry Rotich away from his desk unnecessarily, but also they incessantly intimidate him and cause him unwarranted sleepless nights. Some of these meetings are triggered by the greed of elected officials interested in earning maximum sitting allowances by attending all the sessions they can however frivolous the subject.
The summoned officers who fail to attend these sittings, which are at times of no consequence, are threatened with impeachment no matter how important the national duty that kept them away. Sometimes these officers are even attending sittings of other parliamentary committees, but to the ‘honourable’ members of the committee that the officer ‘snubs’ that fact is inconsequential. Is this logic worthy of people who claim (albeit unjustly) such high moral ground?
Nobody is seeking to deny Parliament its mandate of ensuring accountability, but this should not be used as a smokescreen to frighten CSs and top government officials, embarrassing the government needlessly. We also hear of monetary harassment, where some MPs are said to demand bribes to go easy on government officials or write favourable reports.
Apart from creating fear among these officials, Parliament, through the unscrupulous members of its committees, could be intensifying corruption by egging the officers towards it so that they can realise the payoffs. The taxpayer would consequently be the worse off as the budgets of projects are inflated to cover the extra costs of keeping MPs happy.
The picture Kenyans get is that the country’s bloated Parliament is mostly made up of busybodies, whose main occupation is to gobble up public funds, waste the time of those willing to serve, go on retreats and ‘working’ holidays at the Coast and outside the country and spew verbal diarrhoea at funerals. They also have insatiable appetites for the good things in life and so have to devise means of making that extra buck. Hence, the pointless committee meetings, trips locally and abroad and crooked mileage claims.
Some of them have the audacity to criticise their ‘smaller’ cousins in the county assemblies for the unorthodox means they use to make illegal money, including blackmailing governors to bankroll their outrageous lifestyles using public funds, but they are definitely no better. If you thought some of the demands by MCAs (for example to have guns and police escort), were juvenile, you should listen to MPs seeking diplomatic passports for their wives.
Well, anything goes in this Parliament and there is always consensus when the people we elected are dealing with personal matters, so their wives (except Aden Duale’s) might just get diplomatic treatment at airports and on flight. But as they enjoy themselves with their spouses at our expense, may they allow those who are willing to work, perform their duties with no undue interference.
Yes, summon the CSs and whoever else you want, but do this within reason and rarely enough to allow them time to manage their offices and play other important roles in serving the country.
Njonjo Kihuria is a freelance journalist. [email protected]