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No end in sight as Matiang'i, lawmakers' dispute deepens

POLITICS
By Brian Otieno | March 29th 2021
Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred Matuangí and Interior Principal Secretary Eng. Karanja Kibicho. [Picture, Standard]

Members of Parliament have faulted top Interior ministry officials for their failure to attend parliamentary committee sittings whenever they are summoned.

A tweet by Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho expressing his disappointment over last Wednesday's failed meeting between ministry officials and a parliamentary committee appeared to have sparked the fury of the MPs.

“A little bit discouraged that our meeting today by the Parliamentary Committee on Administration and National Security was aborted due to lack of quorum, but we are more than ready to respond to the honourable members' questions and concerns as soon as they invite us again,” read Kibicho’s tweet on Wednesday.

In an attached video clip, Kibicho states that officials in the ministry, led by Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, had congregated at their Harambee House office to honour an invite to the said virtual meeting committee.

He explained that the reason for the aborted meeting was a quorum hitch on the part of the lawmakers.

But members of the security committee would, the following day, state that they had boycotted the meeting to get back at the ministry officials whom they claimed had snubbed previous sittings.

It all started when two MPs, Kibwezi East's Jessica Mbalu and her Moyale counterpart Wario Qalicha, complained that statements they had sought from the Interior Ministry, through the security committee, had yielded unsatisfactory responses.

In answering concerns from the two lawmakers, members of the committee narrated instances that the Ministry of Interior and  Coordination had allegedly slighted them, claiming they gave them no responses to questions their colleagues had raised on the floor of the House.

“What reason do we have to have a meeting with such people... We have been meeting for the last three-and-a-half years and I can say without any fear of contradiction that we have met the CS less than three times,” said Kitui Central MP Makali Mulu, claims that were backed by a host of his fellow committee members.

He added: “The only time the PS comes with a full team is when we are discussing the budget. When we are discussing matters as important as questions from MPs, they are never there.”

Kisumu Woman Representative Rosa Buyu said: “Many times, the committee has had to call off its meetings with the ministry officials at the very last minute and no reason has been given.”

While many underlying issues were raised by the MPs, including claims that their resolutions were numerously voided, the dominant concern was that Matiang’i and Kibicho had been skipping their sessions. The MPs, however, did not give details of instances where Matiang'i and his team had snubbed them.

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, who also faulted the Interior ministry officials over their responses, directed Majority Leader Amos Kimunya and Majority Whip Emmanuel Wangwe to convene a meeting between the committee and the Ministry of Interior to discuss its future engagements with Parliament.

However, the Thursday afternoon outburst was not the first time the Interior CS and his PS were the subjects of accusation that they are ignoring parliamentary sittings.

Last August, Matiang’i appeared before Senate’s security committee over the arrest of three senators. This was on the eve of a day they were to vote on the third basis revenue-sharing formula, whose debate had been divisive.

The session – which the media was barred from – came hot on the heels of another one that the Interior CS failed to attend. The committee’s chair at the time, the late Yussuf Haji, reported to the House that Matiang’i failed to show up courtesy of a break the President had directed members of his Cabinet to take.

Months earlier, Matiang'i had clashed with the Senate ad-hoc committee on Covid-19. The committee’s then-chairman Johnson Sakaja issued summons to the CS after he had skipped its sittings four times.

Matiang’i had been invited to answer questions on alleged police brutality in enforcing a curfew that had been put in place as a containment measure against the spread of Covid-19.

In February 2019, the CS angered senators in the security committee after failing to appear to issue a status report on the government’s Huduma Namba project.

The script was similar in June 2018 when the CS skipped a meeting with a joint parliamentary committee investigating contraband sugar importation.

In a letter, PS Kibicho would later state that Matiang’i had been engaged in that year’s East African Heads of State summit and requested a fresh date for the meeting, which he attended.

Muturi's sanctioned meeting, if it materialises, will not be the first attempt to iron out apparent differences between Parliament and the Matiang’i-led ministry.

In October last year, the Interior CS committed to improving the relationship between Cabinet secretaries and the Senate after a meeting with Senate’s liaison committee at a Nairobi hotel.

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