That our MPs engage in brazen rent-seeking has not been in doubt. That they could do it so openly in the chambers like they did last Thursday is quite bewildering. When the 12th Parliament sat for the first time nearly a year today, we exhorted them to eschew the ways that had brought disrepute and mockery to their predecessors.
But, alas, we were wrong to expect too much from the new crop. Twice, a parliamentary report on the probe on contraband sugar has been rejected. The motive of the rejection is questionable. The necessity for a parliamentary probe arose from the very alarming claim that imported sugar being sold to Kenyans contained mercury and lead.
The Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Trade, Industry and Cooperatives that investigated the matter, even before the report could be debated on the floor of the house, gave conflicting statements on the matter. Apparently, vested interests led some of the committee members to insert amendments that sought to exonerate two Cabinet Secretaries who had been indicted by the report without the knowledge and approval of the committees chairman and members. Then on the day the report was presented, Speaker Justin Muturi deferred debate on the report because it was “presented unprocedurally”. How apt.
What followed on the floor of the House can only be described as embarrassing. Arguments raised by those opposed to the report were flimsy at best. When Gwassi MP John Mbadi insisted what the report simply needed to do was name those behind the importation of the sugar, he completely missed the point.
The Leader of Majority Aden Duale was brazen enough to defend Treasury CS by and insinuated that the importation of the sugar was sanctioned by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The question is; Did the president approve importation of poisoned sugar and worse, in excess of what was needed to immediately cover the shortfall in the country? Claims by some MPs that a few of their colleagues took bribes of as little as Sh10,000 to shoot down the report are disturbing. And when Mr Duale, in violation of House rules, chose not to table an amendment to the report to expunge the offending sections and dismissed the report out of hand, he confirmed the extent of the rot in Parliament.
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi has, previously, failed to investigate numerous other claims of corruption against MPs. So, for him to have issued a circular to the Clerk of the National Assembly instructing him to invite the MPs adversely mentioned by their colleagues to give their version of the story is nothing short of insulting the intelligence of Kenyans. This is only one of the half-hearted attempts at fighting corruption, for nothing truly worthwhile is expected to come out of it.
Parliament’s three roles include: representing the electorate; making laws; and overseeing the government through hearings and inquiries. Parliament represents the sovereign will of the people. If for nothing else, Members must respect its grave symbolism.
Ideally, Parliament should be the touchstone of integrity. Sadly, it hardly lives up that. The grandiose of Parliament Building never reflects in the men and women who walk into the chambers. In truth, the average Kenyan MP is constantly thinking of cutting deals and of more ways of sharing public resources. Actually, they spend less time thinking about wealth creation.
It is atrocious that besides gulping millions of shillings in salaries and allowances, the men and women in Parliament still want more. In truth, Parliament reminds us of the enduring beauty of democracy. It also reminds us of what can go wrong when the lowest denominator determines our politics.
Democracy is about building and preserving a way of life, a culture: it is a social contract between those who govern and the governed; it is about a sense of shared common values and truths; it is about the right to demand the best from those who lead us. On that score, MPs have failed Kenyans. And they should be made to pay for it.