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Fresh graft claims taint Parliament’s integrity

BUSINESS
By | Mar 18th 2012 | 5 min read
By | March 18th 2012
BUSINESS

By JUMA KWAYERA

Allegations that some MPs pocketed huge sums of money to reject portions of a probe report by the Parliamentary Select Committee on the weakening shilling once more raises questions on the integrity of the Legislature.

While the allegations are not new, an influential civil society organisation and the public want Speaker Kenneth Marende to confront corruption in Parliament or risk public impeachment for condoning a vice that impoverishes millions.

Parliament is at pains to clear its name of graft allegations. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]

Constitutionally and functionally, the public expects Parliament to be beyond reproach. But the integrity of the House has been an issue, with Gichugu MP Martha Karua sensationally describing Parliament last year as "the greatest auction house in Africa" after former US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger accused the Kibaki administration of complicity in sleaze. She was contributing to a Motion of censure against the envoy.

Auction house

Ms Karua described corruption among MPs as a defilement of the integrity of the National Assembly.

"As a matter of fact, I have said the way we are behaving, we are like the greatest auction house in Africa and we know that this Motion may have been sponsored by those who are afraid of certain things, including some sections of the Ocampo Six," Karua told Parliament.

The latest row over entrenched graft in Government was touched off last week by Kisumu Town East MP Shakeel Shabir, who alleged a crop of young MPs are on the take whenever a serious national issue is debated in the House.

The allegations were made on the same day a suspect document alleging Prime Minister Raila Odinga was acting in cahoots with the British government to cart away President Kibaki at the end of his tenure and the four International Criminal Court suspects for trial over crimes against humanity.

Despite questions about the authenticity of the document tabled by MP Charles Kilonzo and allegations of impropriety of the bearer of the document, the Speaker declined calls to put on hold the admissibility of the document until its authenticity was established.

The United Kingdom’s Commonwealth and Foreign Office in London, said to favour Raila Odinga presidency, had also described Kilonzo’s document as a forgery.

In Britain, similar allegations of questions-for-cash in the House of Commons in 1994 precipitated the fall of the conservative government after a London lobbyist, Ian Greer of Ian Greer Associates, was alleged to Ian Greer Associates, was alleged to have bribed two Tory MPs.

Allegations of graft in Parliament comes at time when Kenya is grappling with an influx of foreign immigrants and businessmen said to have arrived in the country with the assistance of influential politicians. Security notwithstanding, there have been allegations of MPs and Cabinet ministers receiving bribes in exchange for protection of foreign criminals. Although there is yet to be credible evidence, some Kenyan MPs are said to have links with criminal elements, international drug peddlers and money launderers, counterfeiters and tax evaders.

Chopping block

Against the backdrop of such embarrassing allegations of impropriety in Parliament, Mr Mwalimu Mati, the managing director Mars Group, an NGO that specialises in budget and national expenditure monitoring, says the Speaker’s head is on the chopping block for handling the graft allegations casually.

Mati terms as a "constitutional scandal" the Speaker’s equivocation on issues that affected the morality of the House charged with making laws to curb graft. "It is apparent Parliament has been detached from good governance. The Speaker is demonstrating a shaky attitude at a time credibility of the House is under assault," says Mati.

Marende has endeared himself to the public through carefully thought out decisions that pre-empted a slide back into ethnic acrimony.

Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on the decline of the Kenya shilling against foreign currencies and Central Bank of Kenya Governor Njuguna Ndung’u’s role in inflation spike Adan Keynan, while non-committal on how graft influenced the removal of the governor’s name from the final report adopted by the House, admits the controversial decision predicated on next elections. "You can make your own guess. It all had to do with 2012," Keynan responded to questions about some MPs having accepted bribes to remove the Governor’s name from the House committee report.Coming at a time when majority of Kenyans — including salaried workers — are struggling to provide basic needs, Shabir indicted his colleagues for allegedly accepting Sh200,000 bribe to mutilate the Finance committee report that accused Ndung’u of complicity in the depreciation of the shilling.

Graft agent

Johnstone Muthama, the PNU Joint Chief Whip, who was said to have been the distributor of the cash, termed as rubbish allegations that he is a graft agent in Parliament. "The allegations are not new. They were there before I became an MP. I heard of the allegations when I became Chief Whip. I have not seen anything like that personally. I was surprised when some MPs called me to ask if I had packages (cash) for them," the Kangundo MP says.

The findings blamed the governor for excess liquidity in the economy that sent headline inflation galloping as consumer prices shot through the ceiling. The committee wanted the governor’s contract terminated, but MPs — mainly from his home in Central Province — are said to have lobbied hard for his retention in addition to expunging his name from the final report.

More significantly, the allegations of massive bribery in Parliament came at a time when industrial unrest over low pay and poor working conditions is threatening to paralyse the economy.

Workers in the Health, Education, Communication and Energy sectors have in the past resorted to industrial action demanding a payrise to mitigate inflation. Industrial unrest has adversely affected service delivery in public institutions.

Last week, while commenting on how MPs pass bad laws despite the Tenth Parliament having some of the best scholars, Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo said some of the MPs are induced to vote, the larger national interest notwithstanding.

Some stay away from crucial parliamentary sessions to precipitate a quorum crisis or undermine their side’s numerical strength. "It is not about having the best minds. It is about numbers in the House, and, often, it is also about parochial interests. It is neither the first nor the last time (Parliament will suffer a quorum hitch)," Mutula says.

In his memoirs on Kenyan politics, Politics of Betrayal, former Bahari MP Joe Khamisi outlines characteristics of MPs-for-hire: They are usually young and from obscure backgrounds and disruptive when the House in is session. They rise on frivolous points of order, parochial in their contributions, poorly informed to the point of semi-literacy and populist. They demand ministerial statements on virtually everything. Their paymasters on the other hand often control the corrupt MPs remotely with huge cash financial gifts — usually paid out in toilets or in unmarked envelopes left in their mail pigeonholes.

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