Muturi reads MPs riot act over bad behaviour in House committees

West Kenya Sugar company Chairman Jaswant Rai (2nd L) chat with the National Assembly Agriculture and Trade Joint Committees members after their meeting on sugar with mercury at County Hall, Nairobi on Thursday 28/6/2018. [Boniface Okendo,Standard]
Members of Parliament have been warned against being too cosy with persons summoned by House committees during investigations.

Speaker Justin Muturi warned that such committee meetings might appear to be sanitising investigations.

Majority Leader Aden Duale introduced the matter for debate when he asked the Speaker to rule on the conduct of MPs hobnobbing with witnesses in committee hearings, saying the integrity of the House was at stake.

Mr Duale cited instances where members behaved like sycophants of witnesses appearing before committees.

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“There is a common misconduct of members, where before and after sessions they go hugging and having hearty engagements with witnesses. The seriousness of the matters being discussed in committees must be seen in the manner that members treat and engage the witnesses,” he said.

Minority Leader John Mbadi claimed some MPs had turned committees into rent-seeking sessions and that those named adversely should be ejected from the committees.

“If members are mentioned adversely, we must remove them from committees pending investigations," he said.

Mbadi said the committee members must maintain the sanctity of the House even when sitting in committees.

“When you go there (into committees) you are supposed to safeguard the interests of the House, not rent-seeking. State officers must conduct themselves in a manner that avoids conflict of interest or demeans their offices,” he said.

Muturi read the riot act to the MPs over their unbecoming conduct and directed that members who fail to attend committee sittings to be removed from membership.

In a rare dressing-down, Muturi complained that some MPs were treating their committees’ responsibilities lightly and ordered the House Director of Committees to keenly follow attendance of meetings.

Aware that some MPs only made “technical appearances” in meetings to sign the attendance register, Muturi directed technical staff of the committees to also take note of how long the members stayed on.

“Those not attending should be removed. The details of attendance will also include how long you sit in those committees. It is annoying and wrong that the chairmen are left alone as members lounge outside,” said Muturi.

Muturi also protested a growing trend where MPs attend meetings as “friends of the committee” to show solidarity with their kin when they appear as witnesses or persons of interest during probe sessions.

“Don’t become a friend of the committee merely because a person from your village is appearing,” he said.

Duale had also criticised the manner in which MPs have been holding press briefings to attract media attention on matters that they had not taken to the floor of the House.

He cited an instance this week where some MPs threatened to impeach Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich over the sugar importation saga.

Duale said it was curious that the legislators were issuing the threats even before a report of the committee probing the matter was tabled in the House.

“When you want to impeach a CS you do not need a press conference. But we have seen our colleagues doing press conferences even before they have seen the report,” complained Duale.

Charles Kilonzo (Yatta) and Mark Nyamita (Uriri) expressed concern with incidents of government agencies and parastatals funding retreats for House committees, saying in such situations, it was difficult for MPs to be objective in their oversight role.

"We want to know if the clerk of this House authorised a committee to have a meeting with a government agency that they are investigating. It portrayed this House in bad light,” said Mr Nyamita.

Speaker Justin MuturiMPscontraband sugar