By Billow Kerrow
A lot has been said about the place of Parliament in society, much of it negative expletives over corruption perceptions, selfishness, ethnic chauvinism and party sycophancy.
In recent years, Members of Parliament have also come under fire over CDF misuse; hate speech, and political nomadism. In most cases, it is their actions, real or imagined that predisposes them to stereotyping by the public.
When they do a good job however, trust Kenyans to shower them with praise. This was the case recently when the Parliamentary Select Committee reached a deal unanimously in Naivasha on the Proposed Constitution. For a moment, it was as if we lived in another nation. Kenyans were elated with their unprecedented unity and would almost bet that our MPs have reformed a great deal. They almost repeated the feat in KIA.
Then it started to crumble when the draft was tabled in Parliament; it was as if they had never met. They quickly engaged into a ‘mutually destructive’ mode, loading in over 160 amendments, mitigated by just as many walkouts to ensure a zero-sum outcome. And they argued afterwards that the draft was so bad that they had to craft all those ‘invaluable’ amendments. And as expected, after their ‘historic’ endorsement of the ‘flawed’ draft for the ‘sake of the nation’ they have now started rubbishing it.
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But perhaps the most awesome trait of our representatives is their single-minded ‘commitment’ to approve a proposal when they deemed it fit. For instance, it took them a couple of hours to pass the National Accord changes to the constitution. And this week, it took them half an hour to endorse Treasury’s Sh42 billion-supplementary budget.
Whilst I do not begrudge their gusto in matters of ‘true north’, I am worried when it comes to the casual approval of expenditure of my taxes. It is not that this massive allocation is required for only three months to the June year-end, or that it is largely consumption expenditure.
I am worried our MPs can trust Treasury at all. At the same session, the Budget Committee tabled their report on the Treasury’s Budget policy statement for 2010/11, which strongly criticised the lack of coherence between national development blueprints and priorities, and resource allocations by Treasury. This is not unusual as Treasury has always prioritsed expenditure allocations largely on political patronage and the need to maintain the Government’s ‘conspicuous consumption’ lifestyle.
More importantly, Treasury, as the custodian of public resources, has failed dismally to oversee prudent financial management in Government. It appoints and supervises all public accounting officers, and authorises all major public expenditures. It also has internal auditors in all public entities that approve all payments to ensure they are in accordance with budgetary allocations.
Yet, every major financial scam in this country has happened right under its nose, including sleazy scandals such as Goldenberg, Anglo-Leasing, Cemetery scam, FPE funds, to name but a few. Our MPs know as much because they have been instrumental in unearthing some of these major scams.
They make Sh10 billion ‘computer errors’ but decline the House’s direction to carry out forensic audits to ascertain the truth because IMF tells them you are doing well on the economy. All PAC and PIC’s recommendations on various financial scams and misappropriations are forwarded to Treasury for action but rarely do they implement them. Hence, year after year, the Auditor General churns out similar catalogues of theft of public funds ad nausea. Corruption that has placed majority of Kenyans below the poverty line is a hardly an offensive term in Treasury corridors.
It is therefore alarming when our honourable representatives casually approve such large sums of public expenditure without any serious scrutiny. I am not all amused that our legislators are unperturbed and indifferent in the face of Treasury’s culpability in grand corruption. Which is why I am equally disenchanted with our MPs dillydallying with the proposed names of the anti-corruption directors forwarded to them nearly five months ago? Or their decision not to entrench the anti-graft body in the Proposed Constitution.
After all, anti-corruption rhetoric is their pet subject in public rallies when they want to score points with their electorates. And we pay them handsomely to keep watch over our public resources so that the common man can place ugali on the table for his family. It really ought to be a ‘House of Representatives’ or is it not?
—The writer is a political economist and former MP for Mandera Central.