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Why explosive NYS report may never see ‘light of the’ House

Former CS Devolution Ann Waiguru (right) stresses appoint during her grilling by PAC

NAIROBI: After captivating the country with eye-popping details about how a colossal Sh1.4 billion was stolen from the National YouthService (NYS) and part of the loot carted away in gunny bags, MPs do not have the time to debate the explosive report of the Public Accounts Committee!

It is the final hurdle that has plagued the PAC investigation that has survived the ignominy of claims of extortion and bribery to alter the findings; undue pressure to water down the recommendations and even abrupt quorum hitches to delay adoption of the report at committee level.

Packed agenda

Now, time and packed agenda have conspired to snuff whatever life was left in the report.

The House leadership released its new priorities for the remainder of their term, that is, until June 16, when they will take their final recess to go into the rough and tumble of campaigns ahead of the August 8 polls.

The NYS report is conspicuously absent. Instead, the House Business Committee has lined up the 2017/18 national budget, 13 Bills on the budget and some that have been pending since last year, plus half-a-dozen regulations that deal with the upcoming elections as the key items that have to be passed in the short remaining life of the current Parliament. The term of this Parliament expires on the date of the next General Election.

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The 188-page report compiled after the grilling of 47 witnesses in 50 committee sittings, has far-reaching recommendations to ensure public money is not stolen again, those who stole and their accomplices in government are punished, and the loot recovered.

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“The National Assembly will proceed for recess between April 7 and May 8, 2017 to allow for party primaries, resume for business on May 9, and thereafter proceed on final recess from June 16,” Majority Leader Aden Duale, told the House.

PAC Chairman Nicholas Gumbo is now planning to meet Speaker Justin Muturi to ask him to push the House leadership to include the NYS report among the prioritised items. “I will talk to the Speaker so that we create time to have the matter debated. It has to be debated before the House makes a decision on it,” Gumbo told Sunday Standard.

But Gumbo is not worried that after all the hard work the report had been dropped from the priority items, because, when weighed against the budget, and the Bills to ensure the budget is implemented, the NYS report comes at the bottom of the list.

The fact that this report is now being placed in the parliamentary shelves to gather dust mirrors the ‘Hustler’s Jet’ report which investigated the hiring of a private luxury plane for Deputy President William Ruto.

The Hustler’s Jet report sat in the parliamentary shelves for 15 months. When it was brought to the House in August 2015, it was thrown out.

In terms of parliamentary days, the House has only planned for 21 days between now and election day. In that time, the MPs say they have to pass at least 13 Bills. The House is also grappling with the judicial deadline for a Bill to ensure that no more than two thirds of those appointed or elected to public service are from one gender or risk dissolution by end of May for not complying with a court deadline. In between, there’s the issue of nomination of candidates by political parties.

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“There’s really no time. The priorities were matters of the budget. The issue of the NYS report may be next, but that is a decision of the House Business Committee,” said Deputy Minority Whip Chris Wamalwa.

Unless the House votes to extend sittings and to have extra sittings, it has limited time.

Gumbo says the NYS report needs at least two days of debate, and that will be sufficient for the House to make a decision bearing in mind the limited time. The report reads like a thorough piece of work, with huge ramifications on public spending, the government’s management of public funds and the integrity of State officers, and it ought not to be rushed. The counter-argument is that nearly everything that passes through the House is important, and undue emphasis should not be placed on the PAC report.

But there is a problem: Quorum. “Even the last Parliaments have experienced these kinds of problems notwithstanding the fact that in the past, the election date was never known. Kenyans thought it was better to state it in the Constitution, but it is impacting on us negatively,” Muturi moaned on Thursday in the House, after the MPs failed to raise quorum at 2.30pm when the House business usually begins. The MPs had to wait for a few minutes to get the quorum—something that is unprecedented on Budget Day. The failure to debate the PAC report, which recommends large-scale investigations into the role of commercial banks, private companies and government officials in the multi-million shilling heist, means that the hope for Kenyans to understand the enormity of the theft now lies in the Judiciary. Two high-profile committee witnesses, whose role in the scandal, the MPs said, had to be investigated, are angling for elective positions in the General Election.

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Leadership failures

The report also had a recommendation forensic audits of  government books, revamping the Banking Act, and regulations to tighten the Proceeds of Crime and Anti-Money Laundering Act.

Now that the report won’t be debated, at least going by the timetable, the move somewhat guarantees that no one will interfere with the budding careers of former Devolution Minister Anne Waiguru who is vying to be the new governor of Kirinyaga, and Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, who wants to retain his seat.

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In their recommendations in the NYS report, the PAC members had said that Waiguru should “be barred from holding public office, if found guilty after due process, in light of her overall leadership failures at the Ministry”.

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