National Assembly’s Committee on Appointments retreated last evening to prepare its report after vetting President Uhuru Kenyatta’s nine new nominees to the Cabinet.
After the two-day vetting, House Speaker Justin Muturi, who chaired the committee, said they will have a busy weekend considering the approval responses by the nominees before they present their report to the House when the Assembly resumes sitting next week.
The nominees will be crossing their fingers hoping for a favourable consideration, especially since the vetting panel constituted only Jubilee legislators after their National Super Alliance (NASA) counterparts gave the hearings a wide berth.
The nominees were questioned largely on suitability to their nominated positions, as the MPs gauged their understanding of the functions in their dockets and how they intended to improve the ministries.
After vetting five nominees on Thursday, yesterday saw immediate former Director of Public Prosecution Keriako Tobiko, the nominee for Environment and Natural Resources docket, face the panel. Tobiko sought to convince the committee he was equal to the task, despite not having a firm background on environmental matters.
The lawyer told the committee he was involved in some major litigations touching on the environment, citing his involvement in the case by the late environmentalist Wangari Maathai as she opposed the decision by then Kanu government to set up a multi-storied building at the now famous “Freedom Corner”.
“That case was only thrown out on a technicality, with the court saying our client lacked the locus standi to institute the proceedings, as she did not indicate how she would personally suffer if the infrastructure was put up,” argued Tobiko, who said he had also handled other land and environmental cases while in private practice.
He also addressed the inefficiencies at the Environment Tribunal, saying the body had delayed both public and private development, as he promised to ensure it is cleaned and its efficiency improved, if approved by the National Assembly for the position.
The Water docket nominee, Simon Chelugui, faced claims filed by a petitioner challenging his suitability for the office. The petitioner accused of defrauding a private school in Nairobi Sh500,000.
According to a petition, Chelugui, through his Penelly Construction Engineering Ltd Company, entered into an agreement with the director of St Elizabeth Academy, Karen, three years ago to drill a borehole worth Sh1 million.
The director, Anne Wado, in a sworn affidavit claims that despite making a down payment of Sh500,000 to the firm owned by the former Baringo Senate aspirant for him to start work, he did not keep his end of the bargain and instead vanished.
But Chelugui, who is a also a former director of the Betting Control and Licencing Board, absolved himself of blame saying that Ms Wado owed him some money for an earlier project, and added that the deposit she made was not enough for him to commence work.
“Drilling boreholes is a very expensive venture. Before starting any project, my company asks its client to pay 75 per cent of the contractual sum. The Sh500,000 she paid us was not enough,” he explained.
He accused the complainant of being malicious, saying she was being used by his enemies to fight him politically.
“I do not understand why people want to bring politics into commercial agreements when we have other methods of dispute resolutions,” he said.
At the session, Chelugui’s grasp of his docket and water issues, including giving detailed answers of what needs to be done to ensure Kenyans access clean and safe drinking water, impressed members of the panel.
He pledged to ensure all stalled dam projects are completed as a matter of priority if he clinches the job.
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Pokot South MP David Pkosing, however, put him on the spot, wondering why the nominee in his presentation had not mentioned anything about sanitation, which is part of the Water ministry.
“The President seems to have made a right choice when he settled on you as the Water CS nominee as you seem to be knowledgeable in the sector. Sanitation is a key part of the ministry, are you also going to neglect the department like some of your predecessors?
“My assignment will be to give Kenyans wholesome safe and treated water. This will be the only way to beat waterborne diseases which cause many deaths in the country. Providing safe water will also force us to look at the issue of sanitation,” Chelugui replied.
Meanwhile, Kenyans should expect a renewal of the battles between Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary General Francis Atwoli and the CS for Labour, if MPs approve former Marsabit Governor Ukur Yattani as the head of the ministry.
During President Kenyatta’s first term, his then Labour CS Kazungu Kambi had protracted clashes with the long serving Cotu boss over his presence at National Social Security Fund (NSSF)'s board of trustees.
Kambi unsuccessfully attempted to kick out Mr Atwoli and Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE)'s Jacqueline Mugo, saying they had been members of the board for more than 10 years despite the law requiring trustees to be in office for three years.
Yesterday, National Majority Leader Aden Duale asked Yattani whether he will have the courage to ensure the two vacate the board, as their continued stay was in violation of the NSSF Act.
“As the Labour CS, I will ensure the law on NSSF Act is implemented as a matter of priority. I will ensure all the laws passed by the National Assembly are implemented to the letter,” pledged Yattani.
“NSSF has serious image problems. I will work hard to change the narrative. I will not shy away from controversy, as long as I am within the law and whatever action I am taking will help the society," he added.
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Rashid Achesa, the nominee for the Sports Ministry, had to face claims that he allegedly conned a Kisumu woman, Esther Kabura, her two cars.
But responding to the allegations, Mr Achesa said he was only a witness to the sale agreement, and accused the petitioner of standing on his way to the Cabinet position.
He revealed that the matter had been investigated by authorities and it was established that the complainant sold the cars to another person and received payment.
“Just before the last election in August, this issue cropped up in the media, and the same individual is now coming up with the petition when I am being vetted for the CS post. This is definitely political witch-hunt,” said Achesa.