MPs in a spot for tabling reports with little impact

NATIONAL |

 

Public Investment Committee Chair Abdulswamad Shariff Nassir, in this photo taken on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 [David Njaaga, Standard]

A parliamentary report directing the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) to conduct a probe into a matter it has been investigating since last year has cast the spotlight on MPs’ oversight role.

The National Assembly Public Investment Committee (PIC) on Wednesday joined a growing list of House committees in tabling its report that recommended further investigations by EACC for possible prosecution of top Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) bosses.

Interestingly, the anti-graft agency has been investigating the suspended Kemsa bosses — Chief Executive Officer Jonah Manjari, Procurement Director Charles Juma and his Commercial counterpart Eliud Muriithi — in relation to a Sh7.8 billion corruption scam.

EACC had in September last year submitted a file to the Director of Public Prosecution Noordin Haji seeking his nod to charge six suspects in relation to the alleged irregular procurement and payments. The file was, however, returned for further evidence. “The EACC should investigate with a view to preferring charges against the suspended CEO of Kemsa, Dr Jonah Manjari,” said the committee in its report before the House for consideration.

“The EACC should investigate the alleged interference of Senator Kembi Gitura and Mr Joel Gesuka Onsare, the then Kemsa board members, on the award of commitment letters to Wallabis Ventures Limited and Villa Surgical Supplies and Equipment Limited, respectively, with a view to preferring charges against them for violating the Public Officers and Ethics Act,” reads the report in part.

The report, however, failed to indict directors of the firms accused of engaging in irregular procurement that saw Covid-19 equipment sold to Kemsa at exaggerated prices.

The committee held 55 sittings to receive oral and written evidence from top officials of the agency and directors of 102 firms that supplied Kemsa with Covid-19 equipment, during a probe that started last year.

Lawmakers have been criticised for turning investigations into a circus by gobbling up taxpayers’ money to write reports that rarely provide evidence for subsequent prosecution.?

Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir yesterday defended PIC, which spent millions of taxpayers money, saying it was now upon relevant authorities to take action against those mentioned adversely in its report. “Our role as PIC is to give evidence. We do not have prosecutorial power so it is up to EACC to direct the DPP to do the necessary,” said the committee chair.

The alleged graft in the procurement of Covid-19 equipment by Kemsa was also investigated by the Senate Health Committee that made similar recommendations in what raises questions over the effectiveness of the role of the bicameral Parliament.

The committee in its report that was tabled in March this year recommended that Haji and Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti investigate top Kemsa officials, including Manjari, Juma, Muriithi, Fredrick Wanyonyi (Legal Services), Edward Njoroge (Operations) and Waiganjo Karanja (Finance and Strategy).

The committee that was chaired by Trans Nzoia Senator Michael Mbito also recommended that the DPP and DCI investigate the companies that were awarded tenders by Kemsa to determine if there was collusion between the authority’s CEO, the board of management, and the directors of the companies.

Recently, Haji said that for reports by MPs and Auditor General to be more effective, there was need for legislation to make them form part of evidence for prosecution.

He noted that such reports can only be used to corroborate evidence but cannot stand alone as a prosecution material.

“The Auditor-General will always continue pointing out issues but it remains just that, nothing happens. I cannot prosecute anything based on her report because it has to go to other investigative agencies before it can be acted upon,” said Haji during a round-table meeting with actors on fiscal management, audit and oversight convened by the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

In 2018, the National Assembly rejected a report on contaminated sugar as allegations of bribery swirled in Parliament during an acrimonious sitting that was characterised by shouting. Majority of MPs poked holes in the document while accusing the joint committee that was chaired by then Trade Committee chair Kanini Kega of curiously omitting the names of sugar barons.

Other investigations by lawmakers that have gobbled up millions of taxpayers’ money include a year-long investigation by senators into the controversial medical equipment scheme (MES), and the Sh3.2 billion Ruaraka land saga that attracted a parallel probe by both the Senate and the National Assembly, but whose findings were rejected by MPs.

In the MES probe, the ad hoc committee that was chaired by Isiolo Senator Fatuma Dullo spent Sh5.3 million in sitting allowances.

The nine-member team held at least 100 sittings, with Dullo drawing Sh10,000 per day totaling to Sh1 million–assuming she attended all the sittings–while the seven ordinary members pocketed Sh5,000 in every session for a cumulative figure of Sh3.5 million. The vice chair pocketed Sh800,000 in sitting allowance.

Members of the committee even travelled to the Netherlands for five days where each was paid Sh79,868 daily allowance. The Dullo-led team was constituted on September 9, 2019. It tabled its report one year later but it was rejected by the House for being ‘too general’.

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