Parliamentary leadership is a weak link in graft war


This week, Parliament summoned journalists to answer questions related to a reported that painted the institution in an adverse light. The journalists had reported on corruption in the allegedly august institution. This is unbecoming behavior. The reaction to reports on corruption in Parliament ought not be a censure of journalists. Instead, the Speaker and the rest of the legislature’s leadership should work to rid the institution of corruption.

This is not the first time that there have been media reports of legislators allegedly abusing their offices. It has now become commonplace to hear of legislative standing committees using their investigative and oversight powers to blackmail targets of their investigations. Instead of using the same powers to protect wananchi and to facilitate the delivery of much-needed public goods and services, Parliament is accused of using its powers to obtain bribes.

Now it does not matter whether these claims are true or not. The fact of the matter is that the prevalence of these allegations in the news serves to dent the stature and legitimacy of Parliament. Indeed, this week, National Assembly, Speaker Justin Muturi urged Parliament to redeem its image by stamping out corruption from the committee system. The Speaker also asked legislators not to summon individuals already under investigation, as these were seen as opportunities to extract concessions in the form of bribes. Now why exactly would the Speaker make such a claim if there was not a kernel of truth on these allegations?

As usual, the simple explanation works best. The Speaker knows our legislators very well. He also knows that some of them have engaged in extortion in the name of committee investigations. So there is no need to pretend otherwise. Strong leadership demands that the Speaker take the lead in fighting corruption in Parliament. This should start with the management of the aides that work for our legislators. To get these aides up to speed Parliament must act to ensure that they are qualified for the job of being advisors, researchers, and policy analysts. In addition to hiring qualified staff for our legislators, Parliament must come up with a mechanism of fighting corruption among its ranks.

The focus on opportunities for graft distracts our legislators from important affairs of state. Kenya is currently in the midst of one of the worst episodes of corruption in our history – from the National Youth Service, to the health sector, to the agricultural sector. Yet Parliament has not taken decisive action on any of these matters.

The challenge, of course, is that the Majority Leader is not as focused on making law as he could be. A serious party leader would have sponsored legislation designed to strengthen the war on graft, ensured that Kenyans have equality of opportunity, and invested in a committee system that reflects their needs and concerns. All to say that any adverse reporting on Parliament is spot on. The onus is not on journalists, but on the Speaker and MPs to turn on a new leaf.

- The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University. Twitter: @kopalo