Friday, October 22, 2010

Hon. Keynan is the face of a more assertive legislature

Adan Keynan Wehiye (KANU, Wajir West), the combative chairman of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Parliamentary Select Committee, has been gunning for Moses Masika Wetangula (PNU, Sirisia) for some time now. His Committee has publicised the irregularities involving two transactions regarding the sale and purchase of diplomatic facilities in Nigeria and Japan. Hon. Wetangula has valiantly attempted to head off the investigations, especially when they detail what he knows, when he knew it, and what he did. In the meantime, the Parliamentary Select Committee is variously investigating the Ministries of Water and Industrialisation over the allocation of resources and the employment of the MD of the Kenya Bureau of Standards respectively, trying to unravel the criteria and methods of taking decisions at these two ministries.

What is becoming more and more apparent as the implementation of the Constitution gets underway in earnest is the important role that Parliamentary Committees will play in the coming years. Hon. Keynan may have an axe to grind with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, but without a doubt the issues his committee is investigating are of paramount national importance and Hon. Wetangula cannot escape scrutiny simply because the Committee's chairman has a vendetta against him. This is the nature of politics worldwide and Hon. Wetangula better develop a thick skin while he's at it. However, these committees must become more and more professional in their investigations and must bring to bear every possible investigative tool at their disposal in order to secure answers that are critical to understanding the management of national affairs by the Executive branch of government.

During the Moi years, Parliamentary Committees, such as the PIC and the PAC, were mere rubber-stamps, endorsing the decisions taken by the Executive. Today, the situation is much improved no thanks to the fact that President Mwai Kibaki is not overly interested in manipulating the operations of the Legislative branch. He has allowed his Cabinet a relatively free hand in the manner in which they manage the affairs of their respective portfolios and he has allowed the PSCs to take a more hands-on approach to assessing and evaluating the work of his Cabinet. President Moi did not allow the Legislative branch to develop such power at his expense and he ensured that the chairmen of these committees were tame yes-men, willing, or compelled, to toe the line at all times.

Parliamentary Committees play an important watchdog role in Parliamentary politics. They are the organs mandated to investigate and report on the activities of the Executive branch and their importance is tied to the fact that they check the possible excesses of the Executive. Hon. Keynan may have a vendetta against the Minister for Foreign Affairs, but this does not reduce the importance of the enquiries he has launched against the Ministry. In previous years, the Executive could make decisions and take action without Parliamentary scrutiny, fostering a culture of impunity that we hope will be wiped away by the Constitution. Hon. Keynan and his counterparts are the first line of defense against the overreach of a powerful Executive and their role can only grow in importance when the new government is formed under the new Constitution in 2013. They will be instrumental in vetting and approving or rejecting the presidential nominees to public office and their recommendations should reflect the views and wishes of the people of Kenya.

Hon. Wetangula and Hon. Ngilu are realising, albeit belatedly, that they cannot operate with impunity. Their decisions and actions are subject to scrutiny, and where malfeasance or other malpractice id detected, they should be held to account. The transactions being investigated by Mr. Keynan's Committee are crucial to understanding how our government allocates and uses resources collected from hardworking Kenyans and Mr. Wetangula cannot hide behind claims that he is personally not to blame for the actions of the mandarins in his ministry. The days of passing the buck are over and all ministers must take responsibility, both administrative and political, for the decisions taken in their name. It is high time that other oversight bodies displayed the zeal with which the Parliamentary Committees are going about their mandates. For instance, the Inspector-General of State Corporations must involve himself intimately in the controversial conduct of the agencies under his jurisdiction. Why, for example, hasn't he come out with a report regarding the shameful way in which Joseph Tirop Koskei was appointed the MD of KEBS? The allegations of nepotism and tribalism should have been sufficient to trigger an investigation regarding the apparently unfair manner in which his appointment was effected. No longer should Kenyans be held hostage to the selfish goals and objectives of politicians; it is the responsibility of their representatives, through such organs as the PSCs to ensure that when decisions are taken, they are taken with the national interest in mind.

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