House grilling of ministers lacks the oomph

When Interior CS Kithure Kindiki responded to questions from Members of Parliament on April 12, 2023. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Kenyans’ memories can be as short-lived as a gob of saliva. In effect, the short memory has helped keep many contemptible leaders in office.  

A few months to last year’s elections, I predicted - with precision - that the integrity vetting of the men and women vying would come a cropper. Many shadowy characters, including academic frauds, obtained a through pass to public office after being gleefully cleared by the electoral commission.

The commission, then headed by Kenya Kwanza ‘hero’ Wafula Chebukati, overtly said there was zero chances it could stop ‘tainted’ individuals from contesting.

Director of Public Prosecutions Nordin Haji and Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission chief Twalib Mbarak bit the dust trying to lock out some candidates on various grounds, including graft and alleged involvement in crimes like murder. The agencies are a creation of the law but the very law made mincemeat out of them in their integrity quest! In the end, Chapter Six remained unenforceable, and many people with questionable inclinations had the best time on August 9, 2022. That’s just life!

After the polls, worse deviations from what we expected of leaders and institutions awaited us in vetting of various nominees by the Legislature. As usual, it was a box ticking affair in the august House, with MPs largely proving a risky ‘rubber stamp’ of the Executive.

Now, Cabinet Secretaries (CSs) will be grilled on the floor of the House every Wednesday. In my view, even this much-touted grilling of Cabinet members won’t yield miracles. Without sobriety and ‘collective conscience’, no new ground will be covered. When all the checks and balances for skill and grit were outfoxed, how will MPs rise to the occasion?

Interior CS Kithure Kindiki was questioned on Wednesday. One predictable question relates to the security offensive in the North Rift. He was also questioned a little bit about extrajudicial killings and the reported shortage of birth registration papers.

The scripting of what to be asked punctures the whole idea. No one raised the question of why planners of attacks on private property in Kiambu, and similar threats in Kilifi, Bomet and Nakuru have not been arrested and why those responsible for police excesses, including those captured on camera clobbering scribes, haven’t been brought to book. Because of our short memories, we may imagine grilling CSs will be a stern accountability tool. Like it or not, the dilemma will still rest in how to strengthen the House and every constitutional institution in making leadership and integrity requirements (Chapter 6) achievable.

But the pitfall would still be the influence of power, money and even tribe in swaying judgment. This is why the margins of grilling officials in the House should be understood beyond being an apparent PR opportunity for the administration of the day.  If we really wanted results, we would have started off with a thorough induction of ministers to make them understand their portfolios against our expectations. System training would be vital in full realisation that every State worker, including the President, can be supported to exceed their abilities. This has nothing to do with loyalty or political correctness. 

Preparing ministers for the tough job should start with little important things like public speaking. That way, even the verbal diarrhea that has made some key figures in Kenya Kwanza government a laughing stalk would be, to a greater extent, avoided.

Indeed, all CSs would immensely benefit from qualified special advisers and not clueless CASs appointed on basis of tokenism, or vain grilling in Parliament that borders on time-wastage. As President William Ruto often says, there’s a big shortage of fools in Kenya. The House must now keep off frivolity and serve public interest.

The writer is an editor at The Standard. Twitter: @markoloo