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Opinion divided on calls on Rotich to step aside

By Moses Njagih and Protus Onyango | Mar 7th 2019 | 4 min read

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich has been asked to step aside to allow investigation into flagged payments for the construction of two dams.

Governance and constitutional experts said the principle of inspiring public trust in the graft war required officials to leave office until their names were cleared.

But even as Mr Rotich spent the second consecutive day fielding questions at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, MPs jumped to his defence saying he was yet to be formally investigated.

Those urging him to quit, however, cited a 2015 case when President Uhuru Kenyatta demanded that Cabinet secretaries and other senior State officials named in an Ethics and Anti-Corruption dossier step aside.

Spirit of Constitution

Constitutional lawyer Bobby Mkangi, who was a member of the Committee of Experts (CoE) that wrote the Constitution in 2010, said the spirit of the Constitution on ethics and integrity provided that holders of public offices should inspire public trust and confidence.

“Therefore, stepping aside to allow for investigations comes in. If authorities have begun formal investigations, the holder of the affected office should step aside,” said Mr Mkangi.

This, he said, was important so that public trust was not diminished and the Treasury retained its structural and functional integrity.

Kenya Human Rights Commission Executive Director Atsango Chesoni, who was also the CoE deputy vice-chair, said Rotich should have quit “like yesterday”.

“There should be no discussion on the CS leaving office. Where systems work, when one is in a similar situation, his conscience alone guides him to leave office,” Ms Chesoni said.

Delicate situations

She added that it was “disturbing” that people who found themselves in delicate situations still held onto their offices instead of vacating them.

Transparency International Kenya Executive Director Samuel Kimeu said Rotich should have stepped aside the moment he was called for questioning.

“Alternatively, President Uhuru Kenyatta should ask him to step aside. Kenyans should be worried that we have over-borrowed and over-stolen. Instead of punishing the corrupt and recovering the loot, we have increased taxes to mitigate the impact of corruption,” said Mr Kimeu.

He said the investigation must continue “to its logical conclusion”.

International Centre for Policy and Conflict Executive Director Ndung’u Wainaina said Rotich and his fellow officials should quit.

“It is a Government requirement that withdrawing Sh1 million has to be accompanied by a valid reason. But now we have many cases of billions of shillings being withdrawn when Rotich, his Treasury officials and the Central Bank of Kenya are quiet,” said Mr Wainaina.

He said the anti-corruption crusade would only be won if Chapter Six of the Constitution was fully implemented.

“We see key accountable points have not been met by Rotich. Why is he still in office and why has Uhuru not sacked him?” he asked.

It was also the experts’ view that with the budget-making process near the tail end, Rotich could not afford the distractions and pressure that came with spending long hours with investigators seeking answers on Sh21 billion in questionable payments to build Arror and Kimwarer dams in Elgeyo Marakwet.

But MPs interviewed termed calls for the CS to step aside premature.

They argued that so far, there was no incriminating evidence against Rotich. They, however, said if found culpable, he must leave office or be sacked.

Minority Leader and Suba South MP John Mbadi said it was unfair to call for Rotich to vacate office just because he had been questioned by the DCI. He noted that there was no information implicating the CS of anything.

“Being questioned to write a statement does not necessarily mean that the CS has done anything wrong. We should be patient and wait for the DCI to conclude its work. If there is impropriety on his part, then the President will have no option but to sack him,” said Mr Mbadi.

Custodian of resources

He added: “There is an element that he could be giving evidence that would see him as a witness and not a suspect. I would be disappointed if the outcome of the probe indicted Rotich. He is supposed to be the custodian of our resources and it would be unfortunate if he took part in the plunder of the same.”

Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chairman and Baringo North MP William Cheptumo also termed the calls for the CS to leave office premature.

He said Kenyans must allow the investigating agencies to finish their work and make a determination on who was responsible for any losses without resorting to public lynching of a civil servant just because he had been questioned on the matter.

“It is premature to demand that he steps aside. We also must stop this character assassination and allow for objective investigations.

“What if we call for his stepping aside then he is not implicated in any wrong? We will have already tainted his name in the eyes of all,” said Mr Cheptumo.

The lawmakers said the Treasury boss had not been named as a suspect in the ongoing investigations.

“Let us not castigate him for being grilled. We will not have to wait long for the outcome of the probe. If he is indicted, then he should leave office and be prosecuted,” said Homa Bay Woman Representative Gladys Wanga.

Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr said Rotich, as the chief accounting officer, should be accountable for the prudence of public expenditure.

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