Once powerful PAC missing in action amid massive scandals

National Assembly Public Accounts Committee members led by Chairman Opiyo Wandayi with his Vice Jessica Mbalu (R). [Boniface Okendo/Standard]

In its heyday, the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was a powerful watchdog team that kept the government of the day in check.

The committee has hitherto been chaired by equally powerful politicians – from former vice presidents Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Wamalwa Kijana to former President Daniel Moi to current President Uhuru Kenyatta.

But the PAC in the current Parliament, chaired by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, seems to have gone on a lull, as nothing much is heard from it.

Has the watchdog committee mellowed with the Handshake?

Audited accounts

When he was elected the PAC chairman in December 2017, Wandayi affirmed his committee’s “commitment to remain diligent and objective through and through, and to execute its mandate without fear or favour”, promising they would not let Kenyans down.

The legislator now says he has kept this promise. He says the committee, under his leadership, has produced reports on the national government’s audited accounts for three financial years, a backlog he says they inherited from the previous committee.

“Now we are dealing with the 2017/18 financial year, which is the latest report. From these reports, the counties will get more allocation from the National Treasury,” he says. In February last year, the committee released a report recommending the disbandment of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

The report accused the commissioners, CEO and directors of conflict of interest in the procurement of the KIEMS kits used in the 2017 General Election, and illegal direct procurement of other “critical goods and services”.

After the report was released, nothing much was heard about it and it was quickly pushed to the back burner as one corruption scandal after another made headlines.

When Jaramogi was the PAC chairman from 1992, he led the committee to investigate the Goldenberg scandal, writing a damning report.

The report had extensively captured the illegality of the entire scam and recommended that all the money that had been acquired illegally be returned and perpetrators prosecuted.

Curiously though, this report never saw the light of day and was never tabled in Parliament, amid claims that Goldenberg chief architect Kamlesh Pattni had bribed Jaramogi.

When Wamalwa took over as PAC chairman following Jaramogi’s death, he was asked by Speaker Francis ole Kaparo to convene a committee meeting to revisit the Goldenberg scam.

PAC members were summoned amid sharp divisions, with some committee members like Raila Odinga, who were opposed to this new development, questioning why the issue was being re-visited yet Jaramogi’s team had conclusively dealt with the matter.

Writing in an online blog, long time Jaramogi aide Sarah Elderkin says: “It was clear to Raila that PAC had been compromised. Several members of the committee suddenly appeared driving new cars.”

When Uhuru chaired the PAC, the committee is remembered for writing a hard-hitting report on the dubious Anglo Leasing contracts, accusing tycoon Anura Perera of supporting former President Mwai Kibaki, including during his hospitalisation after the road accident ahead of the 2002 presidential contest.

Many Kenyans still fondly remember former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale as a PAC chair in 2008 when he led the dramatic “Kimunya must go” chant in the 10th Parliament that eventually pushed then Finance Minister Amos Kimunya out of Cabinet. Kimunya had sworn that he would rather die than resign.

And when it was then Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba’s tenure, the committee was making headlines again, only this time it was accused of extortion and bribery. It was then suspended to allow the Powers and Privileges Committee to investigate the allegations.

Executive capture

But Wandayi’s committee is rarely in the news, whether for good or bad reasons, even as the ODM secretary for political affairs insists his team is doing a “marvelous” job.

“More critically, this is the only PAC that has had no scandal to its name,” he says.

Ndung’u Wainaina, the International Centre for Policy and Conflict (ICPC) Executive Director, commends the committee for its work on the audited accounts.

However, he says, the PAC has grown silent about corruption allegations involving government officials.

“Kenyans are not able to see any substantive action from the committee amid the many graft allegations. The committee needs to come out and let Kenyans know what it is doing, especially about corruption,” says Mr Wainaina.

He says it is not just the PAC, but the entire Parliament that has lost its independence and “got captured by the executive”.

“The situation has been made worse by the Handshake. This Parliament cannot oversight the executive,” Wainaina claims.

Meanwhile, Wandayi insists he is “on top of things in the party, in Parliament and in my constituency”, referring us to Robert Greene’s fourth and 16th laws of power.

The fourth law states, “Always say less than necessary”, while 16th law goes, “Use absence to increase strength and honour”.