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Integrity crisis rocks Kenyan Parliament as MPs battle criminal cases

POLITICS
By Standard Team | February 4th 2016
The vocal Nandi Hills MP and nominated MP Sonia Birdi are seeking to clear their names after they were charged in a Naivasha court with creating disturbances, incitement and using the name of the President to invoke fear. The weighbridge drama was captured in a secret camera. The two MPs denied the charges and are out on a bond of Sh300,000 or cash bail of Sh150,000 awaiting hearing and determination of their case.

NAIROBI: It is a case of lawmakers turned into suspected lawbreakers. It is a story of Members of Parliament battling for their political future in the face of damning charges of heinous crimes such as rape, fraud, hate speech and incitement.

To date, at least 17 MPs have been charged in court for serious criminal offences. The charges against five were dropped (because of lack of evidence), but still the courts have 12 MPs struggling to clear their names from the different charges including fraud, forgery, hate speech, rape, corruption and incitement to violence.

If the MPs had been ordinary people, without money for bail or bond, they would be languishing in remand.

At least 90 other MPs are under suspicion for graft either in the misuse of mileage claims and allowances' fraud. Half of these are members of three parliamentary committees that were pinpointed as havens of bribery and extortion of State officers.

This comes against a backdrop of a damning assessment by Chief Justice Willy Mutunga that if all the MPs were subjected to fresh vetting on their integrity, over 80 per cent would fail.

The Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) has an open file on the members of the Public Accounts Committee and those of the Agriculture Committee after President Uhuru Kenyatta submitted a dossier revealing that the committees had pending allegations of malfeasance. The EACC is also concerned about MPs whose collateral for cheap government loans — title-deeds and log books — were missing from parliamentary records.

With a dearth of integrity in the august House and a swelling knack for impunity in the country, at a time when the Chief Justice has confessed of runaway corruption within the corridors of justice, Kenya is staring at a leadership crisis of unprecedented levels.

"The disaster in this country is that very little effort has been made to realise the aspirations of the Constitution in so far as leadership and integrity goes. We need a robust integrity law that locks out people of questionable character," the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, Canon Peter Karanja told The Standard for this story.

The crimes which the MPs have been accused of all attract jail terms of over six months. If they are convicted, that alone is a ground for them to lose their seats, and be forever locked out of the corridors of power.

The country goes to the polls in 18 months and political watchers, especially those in the civil society, are agreed that unless there is a deliberate tightening of the vetting laws to lock out tainted individuals, it will be difficult for Kenyans to reclaim their country from the cartels.

The NCCK boss said the country has to balance between the judicial principle of "presumption of innocence until proven guilty and the public love for mob justice."

"We must find a balance," said Canon Karanja, who insisted that the investigative agencies must work overtime to make sure they investigate and prosecute corrupt individuals quickly "so that it is clear whether someone is guilty or innocent".

The trouble for the country, according to governance expert John Githongo, is that the very people who are supposed to make laws for good governance are the same ones who watered down the laws.
The court ruling that allowed people accused of crimes against humanity to run for the highest public office, plus a rogue Parliament that watered-down the Leadership and Integrity Act, conspired to give Kenyans a "permissive atmosphere for misbehaviour".

"It is like a school where the discipline is gone, or a military command where we have no discipline... the tragedy is that nothing happens to those people," said Githongo, as he insisted that only major institutional reforms would help. Githongo is the Chief Executive of Inuka Trust.

President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto rode to power while cases of crimes against humanity against them were pending at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, the Netherlands.

The Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi told The Standard for this story that it is the judicial bureaucracy and the corruption within the corridors of justice that have slowed down the fight against corruption.

"The reality is that cases in our Judiciary take forever. That is something that has to be addressed. If you look at the cases of corruption, when they begin, there are applications upon applications thrown on them someone saying people are unfair to them...those are arguments that need to be settled within two weeks. You don't need a year! But our judges continue on that path," said Muturi.
Muturi said the backlog of cases was a constant feature on the Judiciary, and therefore the delay in dispensing justice was just a bottleneck that perpetuates injustice.

"I wonder what the transformation that the Chief Justice talks about is. It is Mutunga to set clear rules on how the judges have to operate and ensure things are done quickly," said Muturi.
Deputy Minority Whip Chris Wamalwa added: "What happened to the principle of innocence until proven guilty? Graft claims in Parliament remain just allegations."

Minority Leader in the National Assembly Francis Nyenze said the corruption claims were mere allegations over-blown in the public eye.
-Reports by Fred Makana, Alphonce Shiundu and Roselyne Obala

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