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Senators vote to consider Wajir Governor's impeachment through committee

POLITICS
By Brian Otieno | May 6th 2021
Wajir Governor Mohammed Abdi (L) accompanied by his County Secretary Abdullahi Hassan when they appeared before the Senate County Public Accounts and Investment Committee over audit queries at Parliament [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Senate has constituted an 11 member select committee to probe the impeachment charges brought against embattled Wajir Governor Mohamed Abdi.

The members will seek to substantiate claims of gross violation of the Constitution and subsidiary laws and abuse of office.

The team comprises Senators Johnson Sakaja (Nairobi), Paul Githiomi (Nyandarua), Christine Zawadi (nominated), Susan Kihika (Nakuru), Mithika Linturi (Meru), Hargura Godana (Marsabit), Okong’o Omogeni (Nyamira), Fred Outa (Kisumu) Agnes Muthama (Machakos), Petronilla Were (nominated) and Issa Juma Boy (Kwale).

The committee unanimously elected Okong'o as chair to be deputised by Kihika

"I urge the special committee to table its report within the specified period of ten days," said Speaker Ken Lusaka.

Section 33 (4) of the County Governments Act states that; A special committee appointed by the Senate shall investigate the matter and report to the Senate within 10 days on whether it finds the particulars of the allegations against the governor to be substantiated.

If the committee acquits the governor, there shall be no further debate on its report.

Majority Leader Samuel Poghisio tabled a motion proposing the establishment of the special committee without accompanying names. 

At the same time Poghisio decided to proceed with the matter despite a High Court ruling barring it from debating the county boss’s impeachment ahead of a hearing set for May 20.

Twenty eight senators voted for the committee route while 14 others opted to have the motion heard in a plenary sitting of the whole House. Minority Leader James Orengo abstained from the vote on grounds of conflict of interest.

"This is just in relation to the voting that is about to take place. In accordance with chapter 6 of the Constitution Article 73, I want to declare a conflicting interest. I have happened to have acted against this governor in a petition before the Supreme Court," said Orengo.

He added: "Therefore, for that reason at the time when my name will be called, I'll abstain on the basis of having acted against the governor at the Supreme Court."

The impasse in the nomination of senators by the Minority and Majority side to the committee brought to the fore the sharp divisions in the Senate raising integrity issues against members.

Poghisio said that the decision not to include names was informed by the need to employ fairness and accord all interested parties justice, amid admission that senators were inconsistent in handling impeachment proceedings of different governors.

“This motion is unique. It goes to prove that the House does not have any interest. It shows that the House is a fair arbiter,” he said.

The ghosts of past impeachment proceedings haunted the decision to leave the committee’s membership blank, with claims of favouritism and intimidation flying from different corners.

Senators highlighted previous cases of intimidation over decisions they were to make which also included voting on critical pieces of legislation.

While seconding the motion, Orengo spoke to the intimidation that has marred previous proceedings, urging his colleagues against cowing down to threats.

“I can never be intimidated in my political life. I have seen many powerful people come and go. I have seen presidents come here and go. I have seen people who on their word, you would leave this House and be arrested come and go,” said the Siaya Senator.

“In the performance of your constitutional duty, never be intimidated. If my day comes, I shall accept it,” he added.

Minority Whip Mutula Kilonzo Jr said that he had floated the move to table the motion without the names of members because of the history of disgruntlement by senators.

The Makueni Senator further defended the option for a committee against that of a plenary hearing saying that it was more thorough.

“The only problem about committees… (is that) if the committee acquits, they don’t bring a report for a vote…“ he said.

“We have never set a clear precedent on how to proceed. We have to be consistent,” he added.

Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula, however, faulted the move, terming it “unnecessarily tedious,” in that senators would again have to vote on a subsequent motion with names.

“The Senate Business committee has not been very neat in what it has done… But I understand fully that there is a high level of mistrust between ourselves and the level of confidence in each other is low,” said Wetang’ula, who preferred the plenary way.

The Bungoma Senator recounted past proceedings, some of which had cast Senate in bad light.

Deputy President William Ruto and Wajir Governor Mohamed Abdi during a visit to Wajir County. [Rebecca Nduku, DPPS]

“If this House lives to its billing then it matters not which avenue we take… if you feel that you cannot discharge your responsibility don’t accept to serve in that committee,” he added.

A section of senators had opposed the committee route, saying it was more open to the public.

“We will not be able to do justice to what the committee has done. I would like us to go the plenary way, the committee will have usurped the power of the Senate,” Marsabit Senator Hargura Godana saidd.

His sentiments were echoed by Wajir Senator Abdullahi Ali.

“If Senate is sincere, if Senate wants Kenyans to believe them then the matter should come to plenary. As senator of Wajir I plead this house to the plenary way,” said Ali.

Poghisio moved the motion on the appointment of the members to the special committee following a standoff at the House Business Committee (HBC) to propose the names as has been the practice.

"The motion having been carried and considering the timelines for the impeachment process the House shall shortly proceed to consider a further motion with proposed names of senators to serve in the special committee," said Lusaka.

Majority Deputy Whip Farhiya Ali backed plenary arguing that in the life of the House, so far they have carried out four impeachments.

"Two happened through plenary and another two happened through committee. The two that happened through committee, there's an allegation that the committee has been compromised and therefore those people were acquitted," said senator Ali.

"If anybody is serious, if members really want to know what's happening in Wajir, let's allow the plenary so that the county assembly will say what they have to say. As the Senator for Wajir I will say what I have to say," said Senator Abdulahi Ali.

Since 2013, 10 governors have been impeached with the House upholding two of the cases.

Former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko and his Kiambu counterpart Ferdinand Waititu were sent home after their cases were considered in the plenary and upheld by senators.

The late Nyeri Governor Nderitu Gachagua also survived the plenary session. The other governors whose cases have been considered through the committee and let off the hook include Martin Wambora (Embu), Mwangi Wa Iria (Muranga), Paul Chepkwony (Kericho), Granton Samboja (Taita Taveta), Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga), Bernard Kiala (deputy governor Machakos).

 

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