Three weeks after the shameful and shameless bribery claims in the supposed honourable House, cynics are still asking: Did some MPs fall for a Sh10,000 bait from a saboteur of the public interest?
Shameful because filth is flying around an institution that is supposed to be a public watchdog. The business of this dog is to safeguard the national interest. There is recrimination. There is denial; and there is buck-passing among MPs.
Of course, you do not expect MPs to admit they have slipped below the integrity threshold. You do not expect them to admit they have defiled the august House. But that jibe, ‘the money does not belong to your mother’ summarises the infectious and insidious nature of corruption. It illustrates the power of the bait for MPs for whom integrity requirements are not a barrier.
Shameless because some members long buried shame. We have helped them to bury shame. We have failed to name and shame them, even when their notoriety calls for reprimand. If you watched TV images on the day the multibillionaire sugar baron appeared before the Agriculture and Livestock committee, MPs were grinning around the man. Hope for a bribe had landed among them.
In the sugar and timber merchant, MPs did not see a dealer and an importer suspected to have committed an economic crime but a subject for extortion.
Literally, angry dogs, even public watchdogs, would want a slice of the steak before thinking of integrity. They had to ‘love’ themselves before thinking of the common good or the five million Kenyans for whom the sick sugar industry is a lifeline. Never mind that some of the suspected bribe-takers come from the crippled sugar belt. Public interest is an objective good.
Anyone who claims MPs are well-paid so they cannot fall for Sh10,000 bait to subvert the public interest is an outsider. MPs are the latter-day carnivores for whom grass and beef are fair game. They take small bribes and grab big ones without fear or shame of exposure.
House committee slots, especially on land, agriculture, industry, trade, and energy are in high demand. In those areas, MPs are likely to find a scandal and a subject for extortion. Such committees often attract other members who sit in as ‘friends’.
The line of questioning by ‘friends’ of the committees is rehearsed. It is intended to shield the people being grilled. The friends have strategies, developed over time, for extortion. They know there is a consideration for protecting the ‘suspect’ from rare wolfish interrogation.
There were times, and those days are still abroad, when steak-holders would take public watchdogs with diverted attention to the Coast. There they would have an official and a private mission: Official would be to brainstorm over a report, say on tobacco advertising.
Privately, they would be feeding on crumbs from the tables of unscrupulous industry hawks. There are images of fattened, sand-covered MPs yodelling at five-star tourist resorts. They go down there to build the nation in their own way.
In a society and age when image is everything, anything goes to sustain a sense of arrival. Once you elect MPs, or parties rig in one, they have to adjust to their new status. They change schools for their children, from public to classy private institutions. Some marry more wives. Some put sidekicks on regular retainers. Some increase the frequency of sampling passion and lust on Koinange Street and other pleasure points. They change eating and drinking out habits.
They acquire better houses in peer-rated suburbs. They book better cars. They style up their dressing. These require money, much more than the Sh1 million they get through Parliament.
Worse, the public expects handouts from MPs as a matter of course. Then there are assorted weekly harambees. And MPs need money to fund the next election. You may blame society as well for expecting too much from newly arrived people of class.
You may also blame MPs for falling into the impression trap. Also, blame ordinary voters who associate elective leadership with acquisition and handouts. Time is overdue for new leadership ethos.