Credible allegations against MPs being compromised by subjects of their investigation surfaced on Thursday during the sugar debate, casting doubts on the integrity of Parliament and its ability to probe corruption.
The leadership of the House - Speaker Justin Muturi, Majority leader Aden Duale and his Minority counterpart John Mbadi — voiced concern that MPs have turned House committees into money-making opportunities.
Muturi, who wore an incredulous look throughout the heated debate, was compelled to issue strict directions on how MPs should conduct themselves during committee meetings.
Mbadi — without dropping names — claimed that some MPs are compromised by witnesses to either defend them or be their ‘mouthpieces’ when they appear before committees of Parliament.
“We have heard rumors that, like in the sugar thing, one witness is said to have given some members Sh300,000 each. We are told also that another officer gave some MPs who are not even members of the committee Sh500,000 each to go and defend them,” said Mbadi.
Duale kicked off the storm when he rose on a point of order to ask the Speaker to give directions on the conduct of the MPs who are hobnobbing with witnesses in committees.
He said the integrity of the House was at stake.
“Committee sittings have become a parade where you are unable to distinguish who the members are from the witnesses,” he said.
“Imagine a judge walking to a court room and before sitting, decides to hug and exchange all manner of pleasantries including jaw and teeth breaking laughter with witnesses including the accused persons?” Duale posed.
Mbadi, who heads the Opposition in the House said: “You saw during investigations on sugar, there are people who went to defend Matiang’i (Interior Cabinet Secretary) and there are members who went to appear nice before the Rai man (Jaswant Rai, chairman of West Kenya Sugar company).”
Although claims of MPs being on the take have dogged Parliament for long, it was the first time the subject was openly discussed on the floor. It was also the first time the leadership of the House was unanimous in its condemnation.
“When Parliament is compromised we all look bad. We discussed this before the House Business Committee and we are not amused. Speaker is not happy, Duale is not happy and I am not happy,” said Mbadi.
On Thursday, Muturi directed that MPs who make technical appearances in committees to sign attendance forms to earn sitting allowances should stop forthwith.
He also warned that MPs who fail to take their committee work seriously will be removed, adding that he was aware some MPs were yet to attend committee sittings.
For instance, it is reported that a number of Jubilee and two ODM legislators hardly attend the Public Investment Committee of which they are members. But the same ODM member of the PIC has attended several meetings of the Lands committee.
“If you think you are not able to serve in a particular committee, inform the leadership. The committees are the engines of this House,” Muturi told the MPs.
Some MPs have also been accused of using their positions to intimidate senior government officials including Cabinet Secretaries and Principle Secretaries with impeachment if they do not accede to their demands.
Duale and Mbadi concurred during the debate, saying some members had developed a habit of cosying up to witnesses while others were being facilitated to attended retreats by entities that are being investigated.
Duale said the committees were not likely to dispense justice and will create a bad impression of Parliament.
“This is a sad state of affairs witnessed in committees; members are seen exchanging pleasantries even with witnesses in inquiry proceedings and yet they are to be the judges in such matters. The perception is worse that reality,” he noted.
Mbadi said if the sanctity of Parliament is not protected, the trend would spell doom to the business of the committees.
“When you are in the committees you are supposed to safeguard the interest of the House, not rent-seeking,” Mbadi said.
It is reported that the Energy committee chaired by Nakuru Town East MP David Gikaria was recently sponsored Kenya Power and Lighting for a retreat out of Nairobi. The company has been under intense public pressure over abnormal billing for electricity and is under investigation over irregular procurement.
Another committee is also said to have been sponsored by a private telecommunication company to a high end hotel in Kwale county while some members of another committee were flown to Mombasa by a parastatal.
Nominated Senator Rose Nyamunga, a member of the Senate Finance committee told the Star that the joint committee probing the sugar saga should be disbanded and a commission of inquiry instituted instead.
“I was so surprised on Thursday by the way the report was presented, trying to protect the sugar barons. I am left to believe that some members were compromised. Some money must have exchanged hands,” Nyamunga told the Star on phone.
ANC-nominated MP and vice-chair of the Committee on Implementation Godfrey Osotsi blamed the woes on the leadership of committees.
He said a number of committee heads were never democratically-elected but forced on the members by State House.
It is not the first time such matters, which touch on the integrity of the MPs, are being raised. In the last Parliament, the Public Accounts committee chaired by then Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba became the first in Kenya’s legislative history to be disbanded over corruption allegations.
The committee that is supposed to audit expenditure by state institutions was disbanded after the Powers and Privileges committee chaired by Speaker Muturi found that members were using their positions to enrich themselves through extortion and blackmail.
The current chair, Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, told the Star that his committee is above reproach.
“It is a very serious committee and we have not witnessed such scenarios. I cannot comment on matters pertaining to other committees,” he told the Star.
Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir who chairs the Public Investments committee told the Star on phone that while some MPs have attended their proceedings as friends of the committee on two occasions, they have never influenced the decisions.
“The work of my committee is well cut out and we have lived to that. We have done a perfect job to oversight public entities,” he said.