Leaders have elevated ghost of graft into a national culture

By Oduor Ong’wen

Parliament is popularly referred to as August House, meaning it is a place of honour. It is a place where honourable women and men are sent by supposedly less honourable people to make laws and policies that bring honour and prosperity to our nation.

But instead of Parliament working towards bringing honour and dignity, it has been turned into a den of corruption and perpetuation of impunity. How we long for the second coming of Jesus of Nazareth.

We are not pleading for Jesus to come back and take us to heaven. That could wait as some of us are not in a hurry to go there. Just like He banished moneychangers from the temple commanding them not to "turn my Father’s house into a den of thieves," so we hope he would whip and condemn our legislators who have converted the August House into a den of graft and other ignominies. The issue of corruption and defence of impunity in Parliament have dominated the national discourse in the last three weeks.

Two debates on the floor of the House exposed the rot in there. First was the debate on the findings of the select committee that probed the root causes of free fall in the value of the shilling whose consequence was torturous. The second was tabling in the House by Yatta MP Charles Kilonzo of a supposedly leaked document authored by the UK government.

The select committee, after painstakingly poring over the available paper trail and speaking to a few knowledgeable people in matters financial, had come to an inference that commercial banks took undue advantage of a loophole in our banking practice of being allowed to access overnight loans to hoard foreign currency.

It also found that our monetary regulator, the Central Bank of Kenya, either absconded from its statutory role or was complicit on the near-criminal actions of commercial banks. The report found the Central Bank Governor Njuguna Ndung’u to bear personal responsibility. He was found to have been a co-conspirator and acting recklessly. He was accused of abetting an economic felony against the public. Condemnation, complaints and criticisms followed with alacrity.

However, when the report came for debate on the floor of the House, the crimes against Kenyans were quickly forgotten or conveniently ignored. The debate did not centre around the pain the actions visited on Kenyans who had risked their meagre earnings to banks and other financial housed so that they could have some decent shelter. The debate took an ugly turn – the ethnicity of Prof Ndung’u.

As tribal roll call proceeded, we are told purse strings were loosened. Yes, it was harvesting season for the honourable members. In the end, Ndung’u’s name was expunged from the report, meaning that with that small act, his culpability was erased from history. Before one could say ‘Ndung’u!’ the honourable members were at it again. This time round it was not a matter of erasing records. They created them. Without regard to common decency and dignity of Parliament, they manufactured a conspiracy.

In this plot, the International Criminal Court had held court with her majesty’s Government and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to lock up the so-called ‘Ocampo Four’ in The Hague so that the latter could easily stroll across the road from the former Shell-BP House to Harambee House.

Having previously "cooked" minutes of ODM Strategy Team in 2007 followed by the alleged letter to ICC purportedly written by Cabinet minister Anyang’ Nyong’o, without adverse consequences, the emboldened masters of impunity decided to forge communication from UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

But little attempt was made this time round to enlist our national intelligence agency. The "letter," reportedly faxed from the office of chief executive officer of a parastatal was tabled in the House by the Yatta MP Charles Kilonzo and widely publicised by the G7. The crime was immediately exposed by both the National Intelligence Service and the UK government. The PM, who was the target of the smear campaign, was livid. He did not pull any punches. The G7 stood guilty and condemned in the court of public opinion. They had been caught in the act.

The foregoing events should be reason enough to alarm. We have elevated corruption into a national culture. When it is practiced right on the floor of Parliament, everyone has cause to be afraid. Really afraid.

These events prove that impunity has been elevated to a religion by some of our politicians. Let us not be surprised next time to hear that an MP has committed physical murder in the precints of Parliament and gone scot free. Some of the politicians are aspiring to highest office. Never mind that there are allegations of serious crime along their trails. But they care least. They are like chicken; they fly very low and for inordinately short distances.

The writer is a social commentator