Stakes are high in the race for the leadership of the National Assembly‘s most crucial watchdog committee, with Jubilee and CORD rooting for a chairman who will protect their political interests.
The interest in the Public Accounts Committee is so high that even Jubilee — which has a majority of 14 MPs in the 27-member committee — is said to have identified an MP from the Opposition as a favourite.
The Clerk of the National Assembly, Mr Justin Bundi, has now informed the MPs that the meeting to elect the chairman and the vice to the new-look committee will be at 10am on Tuesday through secret ballot in Committee Room 9 of the first floor of the Main Parliament Buildings.
The slot, by parliamentary practice, is left to the Opposition, presumably to take care of the oversight of government.
In the race are Opposition MPs John Mbadi (Suba), Nicholas Gumbo (Rarieda), Abdikadir Aden (Balambala) and Eseli Simiyu (Tongaren).
Mbadi, Gumbo and Abdikadir belong to ODM, while Eseli belongs to Ford-Kenya, a partner in the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy.
The contest will test the regional and intra-party cohesiveness and may put the CORD parties at cross purposes.
Within ODM, Mbadi believes he is the most senior politician within the committee and therefore deserves the leadership. “Abdikadir and Gumbo think the argument about political party seniority is moot, because the Leader of Minority Francis Nyenze is the most experienced CORD representative in the House”.
Mbadi is banking on his experience and seniority in the party; Abdikadir will count on his experience in the Budget and Appropriations Committee, while Gumbo believes his previous experience as a committee chairperson, where he had to manage a robust Tenth Parliament, and his knowledge about the dynamics of teamwork, will help him be the PAC boss.
For Eseli Simiyu, his parliamentary “experience and steadfastness” should open the door for him to chair PAC. “We need to begin getting back the reputation of PAC. In a coalition arrangement, all parties must share positions. ODM already has PIC, Ford Kenya should get the position,” said Eseli.
Abdikadir has asked the ODM leader Raila Odinga not to back any of the three. “I have asked the ODM party leader not to impose anyone and instead allow democracy to prevail, which will allow the members choose a chairman,” said Abdikadir on Friday, after hours of lobbying during a meeting at Nairobi’s Safari Park Hotel. The first-term lawmaker from Balambala says he has “the numbers” and therefore his party should not try to tell him to step down.
“My bid to secure the PAC chairman‘s seat is getting stronger and is now becoming more certain. I now have the requisite support from the members of the committee,” said Abdikadir, who banks on his intellectual acumen and aptitude within the Budget and Appropriations Committee. “My first mission will be to redeem the image of the committee and allow it to play its watchdog role. I have also assured my colleagues of a friendly and open leadership style based on honesty and trust in delivering our mandate,” he adds.
Mbadi believes his five years in PIC in the last Parliament; his two years in PAC before it was disbanded in the current Parliament; his seven years working on government books and three years as an auditor; plus his position as ODM chairman give him an edge over the three.
“I have the institutional memory of PAC in the current Parliament, and a lot of work has been done. This is basically audit work, and we have to go through audit reports, understand the queries and give information. The whole thing needs someone who was in the committee so that we don‘t begin all over again,” said Mbadi.
He says his position as ODM chairman makes him the best candidate because “The world over, the leadership of PAC is left to the minority leader, and now that the minority leader is not vying, it leaves no doubt who the senior-most MP is.”
Mbadi‘s view is that the party leaders have to have a say on what happens in the crucial watchdog committee. “I am alive to the fact that members will decide who their chairman will be. We will work together with whoever is picked to make sure parliamentary oversight is strengthened, so that the blame does not come back to haunt us, because it is the job of the Opposition to check the government,” said Mbadi.
But Gumbo dismissed this assertion and warned that being chairman of ODM had no significance within the House. The Rarieda MP said the Standing Orders were very clear that any MP can vie and that party positions are of no significance.
“In the Ninth Parliament, (Omingo) Magara was the chairman of PAC, was he a party chairman? No! In the Tenth Parliament, Boni Khalwale was the chairman of PAC, and even Ababu Namwamba when he was elected chairman in the current Parliament did not have any significant post. So that point about seniority in the party is moot. If Nyenze was vying, I’d step down, because he is our leader in the House,” said Gumbo.
The Rarieda MP said even Mbadi ought to know that party chairmanship “is a full-time job” meaning that the work at PAC is likely to take a back-seat when party matters come to the fore. Gumbo was the chairman of the House Broadcasting Committee in the Tenth Parliament, and whose members included the current flamboyant Nairobi senator Mike Sonko (then MP for Makadara), the then MP for Embakasi Ferdinand Waititu and the current governor of Kiambu William Kabogo (then MP for Juja).
The three have very strong personalities. “I have managed a committee before. We know what happened with this one is that there was no unity. I am good at bringing people together; at fostering team-work and at getting results. I am actively talking to all members from Jubilee and CORD, and so far I believe I have the numbers,” said Gumbo.
The top slots fell vacant following the suspension of ousted chairman Ababu Namwamba (Budalang’i) and four other MPs due to what the Committee on Privileges called “breach of privilege.” Namwamba, the secretary general of the largest opposition party in the country, got to the seat at the beginning of the term of the current Parliament.
The regional angle in the seat is that the PIC chairperson comes from North Eastern Kenya, and therefore there are those who argue that Abdikadir should not be given the seat. Others view Mbadi as a “polarising factor” within ODM, and even in Homa Bay.
Others say that for balance within the Opposition, the seat should to go to an ODM MP from Western Kenya as Namwamba comes from that region. But so far, there is no direct fit to that criteria. Eseli wants the vote because he is he is from Western Kenya but he belongs to Ford Kenya, an affiliate party within CORD.
Abdikadir belongs to ODM but he is from Garissa County in North Eastern Kenya, also the place Adan Keynan (Eldas) comes from. Mbadi is from Suba, Homa Bay County, and Gumbo is from Rarieda, Siaya County.
Whoever gets the backing of the ruling Jubilee coalition, with its inclination to vote as a group, will carry the day.
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