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Public oversight over KDF ensures greater transparency

By The standard | August 2nd 2015 at 00:14:53 GMT +0300

A new Bill that seeks to restructure some aspects of how the military is supervised is raising concern in many quarters, therefore some of its proposed provisions will require greater scrutiny to put to rest fears that it could work against our national interests.

The KDF Amendment Bill 2015, which seeks to shield the armed forces from civilian oversight, proposes that MPs—who are the peoples’ representatives in Parliament— should no longer have a role in ensuring financial accountability.

In other words, legislators who previously discussed a yearly financial report tabled in the House would now be in the dark about how public money is spent.

Instead, Parliament would only be allowed to oversee the deployment of troops in various operations. But this will not include the requirement that the Kenya Defence Forces advertises the number of conscripts it recruits from each county—the Bill wants this requirement abolished.

Already, the red flag has been raised by civilians, particularly those in the Opposition, who say that shielding the military from scrutiny would remove the inherent provisions that were established to ensure transparency and accountability. The point they make is valid—secrecy has in the past been used to shield corruption.

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The Anglo Leasing procurement scandal that involved the purchase of a naval vessel in a questionable security contracts is still under investigation among many other dubious security-related contracts.

More recently, a parliamentary committee summoned Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaiserry and his Principal Secretary Monica Juma over a contested acquisition of a Sh900 million second-hand helicopter for the police.

The Ministry has refused to divulge information about this dubious purchase on claims that these are security procurements.

The Bill also proposes that the KDF should be more directly involved in civilian operations which significantly shifts the command structure currently vested in the Inspector General of Police.

The involvement of the military in civilian operations is likely to trigger protests, especially because the military is trained to safeguard the country against external territorial aggression.

The KDF has never been able to run away from accusations that it largely contributed to the bungling of the Westgate shopping mall rescue operation and claims that some of the 69 people killed in that attack could have been rescued by the better trained GSU para-military police unit.

Whether or not these claims are justified, it is our assertion that the military belongs to the barracks and should only be deployed to contain an external territorial threat.

The controversial Bill does not stop there. It adds woodwork to the fire when it proposes that auxiliary reserves such as the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Kenya Forest Service and the National Youth Service (NYS) should serve alongside the KDF.

The Opposition has already complained of what it calls militarisation of the NYS whose core functions of youth training and community service is now grossly overlooked. Sadly public discourse on NYS’s operations is now largely political — a disquieting prospect if it is militarised.

Whether or not such views are valid, greater deliberations are called for beyond the statutory stakeholders’ forums already held to push the Bill to this stage.

It is inconceivable that the Bill should propose that the government should not be held accountable for injuries of its trainees, and that it should reject compensation claims of families of KDF soldiers injured or killed during training.

Not only is this unfair, it is also against the laws of natural justice.

We have already passed a law that shields the National Intelligence Service from public scrutiny, so we must be careful before we enact other pieces of legislation that can be abused because vital oversight processes have been blocked.

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