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MPs should not hound Ouko out of office to protect looters

By The Standard | Updated Sun, March 19th 2017 at 00:00 GMT +3

When National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi decides this week whether or not to allow MPs to continue listening to a petition against Auditor General Edward Ouko, there will be many issues weighing on his mind. To some, the investigation into Mr Ouko’s conduct over claims of corruption and abuse of office is a routine exercise triggered by suspicions of wrong-doing. To others, the investigation is sinister because it has been prompted by elements in the Executive branch of government who have become increasingly uneasy about the Auditor General’s uncovering of massive corruption by the political and business elite.

What is not in doubt is the growing perception that the Auditor General’s office is under siege from a restless Executive intent on clipping its independence. Whether it is through starving it of funds, or limiting the scope of its jurisdiction by locking it out of scrutinising contracts and budgeting procedures on matters related to national security, the Cabinet has been very impatient with this independent office.

Matters came to a head when it was announced that the Public Service Commission would be involved in the hiring of staff at the Auditor General’s office, sparking protests that this could compromise the independence of this office.

Now the very person of the Auditor General has become the target of what is increasingly beginning to look like a smear campaign. It has come through a lawyer representing a ghost client. In his petition to the National Assembly’s Finance and Trade Committee, the lawyer has stated that an unnamed client wants Mr Ouko investigated over claims of corruption.

Curiously, the National Assembly Speaker cleared the petition in record time. Even without conspiracy theories, it would be difficult to dispel suspicions of improper motives by the way this petition was handled. The petition was filed on February 14 and cleared the same day when in normal circumstances it should have been cleared after the legal committee had studied it to ascertain that the claims made are not spurious and may warrant investigation. Under ordinary circumstances the legal committee would study the claims and make recommendations to the Speaker for further scrutiny. Only then would it be forwarded to the Finance and Trade Committee.

If the Speaker allows this petition to proceed, the National Assembly will be walking a slippery slope given that the Director of Public Prosecution has complained in the past that he was under pressure from forces in government to investigate Mr Ouko, even when he had ruled that there were no grounds to do so.

And now that the matter has taken a political hue, with Opposition MPs publicly backing Mr Ouko and Jubilee lawmakers ganging up against him, the independence of this probe will always be in doubt. And this is probably why the High Court halted the quasi-judicial proceedings by the Finance committee.

These shenanigans are unfortunate and disturbing because they obscure very important processes. They obscure the process to investigate holders of constitutional offices who can only be removed by a petition if found guilty of gross misconduct or for breaching the Constitution.

Should it be established that the harassment and targeting of Mr Ouko is being orchestrated to stop him from exposing the massive rot in Government, then the country would be treading a very dangerous path.

With this in mind, the National Assembly must demonstrate that it respects the independence of constitutional offices and will not be misused by those pursing other self-serving agendas.

For the record, this newspaper respects and supports Parliament’s oversight role over other arms of government, but this is a delicate responsibility that should be inspired by the national good, not partisan interest.



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