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Kenya gets second chance to block public scrutiny of security spending

FINANCIAL STANDARD
By Alphonce Shiundu | April 14th 2015
By Alphonce Shiundu | April 14th 2015
FINANCIAL STANDARD

NAIROBI: The Government will take its fight to keep national security agencies’ expenditure from the prying eyes of the Auditor General’s Office to the Senate.

Auditor General Edward Ouko will also be moving to the Senate to do away with a punitive Sh10 million fine and five-year jail term for his staff for information leaks, and to protect the independence of his office when it comes to auditing the whole Government.

SWEEPING POWERS

This follows the procedural forwarding of the Public Audit Bill, 2015 — with changes from the National Assembly — to the Upper House for review and concurrence.

If the Senate agrees with the Government’s proposal, the police, military and the country’s spies will have sweeping powers to determine what kind of spending the auditor can touch.

The move, however, will puncture the much sought-after push for transparency and independence in public spending, especially within security organs, whose contracts have largely gone unchecked and unaudited, and been riddled with claims of corruption.

The Auditor General was granted independence in hiring and firing of staff when MPs changed the Audit Bill to allow him to have the final say on the employees in his office. He also got a say on how much they would be paid.

The legislators earlier this month also rejected calls to have the National Security Council decide what gets audited and what is not touched by giving the excuse that the matters touch on national security.

“What is in the current clause almost blocks the Auditor General from auditing these organs. It cannot be that the organs themselves decide what can be audited and what can’t. It has to be a discussion and determined jointly between the auditor and the National Security Council at the very top,” said Ugenya MP David Ochieng’.

What the MPs, Ministry of Interior and auditors agreed on is that the officials who look over the security organs’ books have to be vetted first.

“We can’t leave it to State operatives to decide because these are people who would ordinarily want to shield critical information from being made public,” added Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi.

SELECTION PANEL

The chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Finance, Benjamin Langat (Ainamoi MP), rallied MPs to delete a clause in the bill that made the Auditor General subservient to the Public Service Commission (PSC) in recruiting staff.

Mr Langat also asked MPs to allow a selection panel — comprising one representative each from the Treasury, the Office of the President, the Attorney General’s Office, the Ministry of Public Service, the Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Association of Professional Societies of East Africa — to pick the Auditor General and submit three names to the President.

“Having all these people in the team is aimed at making sure that there’s objectivity in the selection of the Auditor General, and that the President gets the best pool of people from whom to pick the Auditor General,” said Langat.

However, concerns have been raised over this arrangement as it will be Government-dominated and may negate attempts to achieve transparency and fairness in recruitment.

However, MPs supporting the composition of the panel said this would be checked in the parliamentary vetting process.

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