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January 16, 2019

Disband Agriculture and Trade committees

Members of the National assembly in Parliament./FILE
Members of the National assembly in Parliament./FILE

The joint Agriculture and Trade committee of the National Assembly that fabricated an investigation report on contraband sugar importation, adulteration and retail ought to be disbanded. Its membership should be exchanged with the catering committee. There, they can retail their cheap greed and profound absurdity on how much sugar the kitchen needs, away from public view.

The two junketeering committees broke every rule in bringing the National Assembly to public ridicule. It won’t be the first time Parliament has dishonoured a rascal committee by dissolution; the 11th Parliament sent the Agriculture and Public Accounts committees packing.

Parliament exists for the noble goals of legislation, representation and oversight. Put simply, making laws, articulating public concerns and ensuring the Executive doesn’t turn rogue on the people. The committee had an opportunity when CS Treasury Henry Rotich appeared before it, but did not even bother to interrogate existing laws and loopholes.

Rotich could have been a resourceful witness when asked about the motivation for gazetting an open sugar import window without conditions, particularly at election time. His reply, that by law he doesn’t set conditions, was a missed window to delve into the loose ends of a legal regime that bestows on a minister power without attendant responsibility.

Rotich’s retort that he is not responsible for quantity and quality assurance was a great opener to interrogate the lack of ingenuity in having various laws on imports scattered all over and whose intention is to act as a cover-up for those overreaching themselves. The committee should have pondered over the logic of giving Treasury power to authorise imports if it cares less and turns its back on how much is imported, by whom and of what standard.

The committee is guilty of dereliction of duty. It trampled on a grave public interest issue; not only did the contrabands target stability of the local sugar industry, they sought to poison a whole population. The two contraventions constitute high treason for economic sabotage and threatening public health safety on a genocide scale.

You would expect even greed to give way to concerns about the thousands of farmers whose only livelihood is ruined in the sugar belt, workers declared redundant and poison sipped by millions of innocent Kenyans. But no; handshakes, shameless selfies and fawning from the rent-seekers won the day.

For a joint committee with such a wide mandate, it was tiresome that members could not summon the courage to walk through the roles of various agencies in fulfilment of their oversight role. There was nothing substantive said of Kebs, AGFA, National Grain Reserve and NCPB roles. Courtesy of the committee, we don’t know the barest of facts about the infected sugar and how much poison we’re taking.

It’s particularly sad that parliamentary committees are insulated by self-serving Standing Orders that the public can neither change nor litigate against. We might want to reconsider this tyranny of self-regulation by opening formulation and articulation of Standing Orders to public participation.

Of importance is how the public can interact with the orders to censure wayward MPs. It is indeed misguided democracy for people's representatives to insulate themselves from the very public they purport to represent.

I’m thinking of a clause that mandates the Speaker, out of his/her own volition, to bring a censor motion through the House Business Committee against wayward committees. Failure, to which we must find, in the labyrinth of parliamentary practice, means to call MPs to order by the public.

Of immediate interest is our miscarried clause on re-call. Let’s turn back to the original constitutional profundity and repeal the subsequent lame law. In its current limping state, the law serves no purpose in a constitutional democracy. A repeal has great potential for a participatory democracy where by now, recall petitions against members of the scoundrel joint committee would have been on the Speaker's desk.

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