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Senators give Matiang’i a red carpet moment

By Roselyne Obala and Moses Nyamori | August 20th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i (second left), Director of Criminal Investigation George Kinoti (left) and Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai (right) after meeting Senators yesterday. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i yesterday appeared before the Senate over the arrest of three legislators on Monday in a session that saw journalists kicked out of the proceedings.

Senators Cleophas Malala (Kakamega), Steve Lelegwe (Samburu) and Christopher Langat (Bomet) were dramatically seized by police and later driven to their home counties to answer to various charges, just hours to a crucial vote in the House.

All three were later released on Tuesday. The three are part of a group of senators opposed to a government-backed formula on revenue allocation to counties.

The arrests were condemned by a number of leaders, including Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga.

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The Senate through Speaker Ken Lusaka had summoned the CS and his top security officials, Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai and Directorate of Criminal Investigations boss George Kinoti over the arrests.

Yesterday’s meeting was led by Committee on National Security chair Yussuf Haji, who ordered journalists out. A source who attended the hearing but cannot be named because they are not authorised to speak to the media said some of the senators fell over themselves to curry favour with Dr Matiang’i. Some who had only a few days back threatened to sanction him for snubbing the Senate praised the CS for doing a good job, and supporting them.

“The IG confirmed that the investigations were still ongoing on the allegations made against the three senators. They were no details given on the said allegations despite repeated requests,” said Minority Whip Mutula Kilonzo Jnr (Makueni).

The senator, who was among the 17 in attendance, said the committee ordered the CS and IG to table a written report by end of yesterday, as the officers appeared without one and gave oral responses.

Yesterday’s session was said to have been calmer compared to Monday’s where senators expressed anger at the ministry’s handling of the lawmakers, which saw the Senate’s special sitting adjourned to allow the Haji-led committee get answers from Matiang’i and his team.

Some of the members who attended the meeting, however, expressed disappointment at its outcome.

“It was a mess. No concrete answer was given. The IG kept saying ‘the matters are still under investigations’,” said a senator in the meeting.

Another senator said: “It is sad it was just a Public Relations meeting, no concrete answers. No explanation given for politically-motivated arrests. It was overzealous move by government.”

He added: “The officers were just dilly dallying with answers. Kenya has become a police State without respect for the rule of law.”

In particular, The Standard reliably learnt that Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja put the security bosses to task to explain why DCI officers have been trailing him and wanted to arrest him.

But Sakaja’s question, just like others sought by committee members and ‘friends of the committee’, were reportedly not answered.

“The CS and IG refused to answer majority of the questions. The senators demanded to know why Malala, Langat and Lelegwe could not record statements at the nearest police station to their residence and were instead whisked away to their respective counties in a very inhumane way, and in total disregard of the Covid-19 rules,” disclosed a source.

The senators are reported to have faulted the action of the DCI officers who raided the residence of their three colleagues on the eve of the crucial vote on the third generation formula for sharing of revenue among counties, terming it political.

Matiang’i and Mutyambai are reported to have declined to address the same, including whose orders the officers were acting on.

“The officers’ action amounted to wastage of taxpayers’ money by burning fuel all the way and deploying a battery of officers who went an extra mile to embarrass and humiliate the lawmakers, their neighbours and constituents,” said another lawmaker.

Isiolo Senator Fatuma Dullo said on Monday: As a member of the Security committee, I urge you to make the matter before us important. What is before us is the lives of our colleagues in incarceration. We cannot make a decision until the three senators are produced.”

Yesterday’s session was, however, tainted by the ejection of journalists from the session, despite provisions of the law that clearly spell out the procedure for taking such action.

Article 118 of the Constitution stipulates: “Parliament shall conduct its business in an open manner, and its sittings and those of its committees shall be in public; and facilitate public participation and involvement in the legislative and other business of Parliament and its committees.”

Also, “Parliament may not exclude the public, or any media, from any sitting unless in exceptional circumstances the relevant Speaker has determined that there are justifiable reasons for the exclusion.”

A legal expert faulted the committee’s decision, saying for a session to be held in camera, it must have justifiable reasons touching on national security, defence policy or on witnesses’ protection. However, the lawmakers’ case is on human rights violation.

“Parliamentary democracy lies in the conduct of its affairs in public glare and it extends to its committees. The law is supreme and supersedes the regulations and statutes for transparency and accountability. It cannot be applied in blanket,” said an MP.

Speaker Lusaka, when contacted said, “Apart from instructions I gave in the plenary, there was no further directive to the committee.”

Senators Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo Marakwet), Mutula Kilonzo Jnr (Makueni) and Samson Cherargei (Nandi) yesterday described the decision to block media from the sitting as retrogressive and a clawback to public right to access information.

Murkomen expressed his outrage over the decision, warning that such trends could slip the country to dictatorship.

“I am shocked that the committee chased the media from a sitting inquiring on the illegal arrest of senators. If the committee cannot stand up for colleagues, the institution of Senate and democracy, then something is really rotten in the state of Kenya,” said Murkomen.

“The Constitution prohibits exclusion of the public, including media, from parliamentary sittings unless in exceptional circumstances determined by the Speaker. A committee chair doesn’t have powers to exclude the media from its sittings. The committee erred in law.”

Kilonzo Jnr said the public has a right to information about the dramatic arrests of the senators.

“I disagree with the decision of the committee to bar the media from the grilling of the CS Interior, IG Mutyambai and DCI Kinoti on the unlawful arrest and detention of Senators Malala, Lelegwe and Langat. The public have a right to know,” he said.

Cherargei, who attended the meeting as a friend of the committee, said efforts by members of the team to put pressure on Haji failed.

“It was sad the committee did not rise to the occasion. We put pressure on the chair over the media issue but there was no reason given. The committee was basically engaging in a dry-cleaning of the wrong doings of the committee. It was a story telling session,” he added.

Fred Matiang’i Cleophas Malala Steve Lelegwe Christopher Langat Senate
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