HOUSE OF CONFUSION

Senate, National Assembly parallel probes spark outcry over duplication, conflict

Fears raised Houses at risk of giving conflicting resolutions and directions

In Summary

• in some cases, agency representatives have largely copy-pasted their responses to fit the parallel probes.

• Still no sight of reports from a number of investigations, some of which were completed many months ago.

Speakers Kenneth Lusaka (Senate) and Justin Muturi (National Assembly) with respective Majority leaders Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo Marwaket) and Aden Duale (Garissa Town).
DUPLICATION: Speakers Kenneth Lusaka (Senate) and Justin Muturi (National Assembly) with respective Majority leaders Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo Marwaket) and Aden Duale (Garissa Town).
Image: FILE

Confusion reigns in Parliament as the two Houses spend time and money conducting parallel probes into key state agencies.

There's duplication, overlap and, at times, conflict.

The Kenya Pipeline Company, the Kenya Ferry Services and the National Irrigation Board have been scrutinised by both the Senate and the National Assembly.

 
 

Their representatives have appeared before different parliamentary committees, most of the time to provide answers on the same issue, all at the expense of the taxpayer.

Representatives of the agencies have many times complained of the challenges — read 'problems' — they face when required to respond to the two Houses.

In some cases, the agencies’ representatives have largely copy-pasted their basic responses to fit the parallel probes. At times, the Houses' recommendations are in conflict.

A case in point is the Telkom restructuring, in which the Senate ICT committee chaired by Baringo Senator Gideon Moi had given the go-ahead for the merger with Airtel.

While the Senate had approved the deal, MPs in the Implementation committee ordered the merger stopped until all grey areas were clarified. That move followed a report by the Public Investments Committee calling for a probe of officials accused of graft in the proposed merger.

On Thursday, the Implementation team chaired by Moitalel Kenta (MP Narok North) ordered a full stop to the negotiations or any form of handover between Telkom and Airtel.

Earlier, the Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i had raised the issue of lack of coordination and orderliness in Parliament.

 

He wrote to Attorney General Paul Kihara, seeking clarification and citing cases of witnesses having been invited to testify before two committees meeting at the same time.

“The Executive has been paying the highest price in the face of the confusion which also risks compromising Parliament’s oversight role,” Matiang’i once told MPs.

Furthermore, those keenly following the events have raised concerns on whether the orders and directives issued by the committees have been implemented.

At the same time, there's no sight of reports from a number of the investigations, some of them completed many months ago.

For instance, the Senate and National Assemblies have been conducting investigations into oil spillages in the country — at Thange and Kiboko in Makueni county.

KPC has been shuttling between the National Assembly’s Environment and the Senate’s Energy committees over the spillage.

The corporation is also awaiting the report of the National Assembly Energy committee’s inquiry into its operations, which includes the spillage.

The committee chaired by Nakuru Town East MP David Gikaria is questioning KPC's operations, including budgeting and procurement as well as spillages.

The team is also looking at the status of the company's storage and transportation infrastructure in relation to spillages as well as the state of key pipeline installations.

COMMITTEE ALLOWANCES

The double-tasking is not without costs as some of the witnesses have to travel — at the Exchequer’s expense — to different locations to honour the summonses.

Also, members earn the same sitting allowances on difference House committees conducting similar probes. Therefore, the Public Service Commission risks accusations of funding duplicate jobs.

Lawmakers are paid committee sitting allowances of Sh5,000 for ordinary members per sitting and Sh8,000 for chairpersons.

Last week, KFS officials had to travel to Nairobi for appearances before the Public Investments Committee, only for them to make a return trip a day later to meet the Senate.

The PIC chaired by Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir and the Senate Transport committee led by Kiambu Senator Kimani Wamatangi are both looking into KFS safety following the fatal accident on September 29 at the Likoni crossing.

“There is nothing we can do to bring these parallel investigations to an end. At the same time, we cannot ignore summonses by Parliament and, therefore, will just heed them. But it is costly,” an agency head confided to the Star on Wednesday.

The official said at times they have found themselves needed in two committees at the same time.

“We wonder whether Parliament has a team that coordinates the activities of the two Houses because we normally find ourselves needed before committees on the same day,” the officer said.

In the case of NIB, the Senate Agriculture Committee is investigating its operations, as is the PIC.

At one time, the agency’s officials took several minutes explaining to a committee that another one had ordered an audit into its operations.

Whereas the Agriculture committee ordered the audit, the officials insisted the call was made by the PIC, hence, they could not discuss the audit before it was tabled in the committee they said ordered the probe.

The Senate team led by Embu's Peter Ndwiga had to extract minutes of the meeting where it had ordered the investigations.

Minority leader John Mbadi, the ODM chairman, blames the situation on the lack of strict adherence to the provisions of the Constitution.

The Suba South MP said the supreme law has spelt out the functions for both the national and county governments, adding that the same should guide Parliament's oversight responsibilities.

“I don’t think the Senate has a role in inviting witnesses from agencies whose functions are not devolved. That is in contravention of the Constitution and an attempt to make the Senate an Upper House through the backdoor,” he said.

Whilst it can be argued that the two Houses have attempted to work their way out of the confusion of their mandates, much remains unresolved. The entangled queries prompt questions on whether Kenyans have gotten value for money in Parliament’s overlapping operations.