Concerns are emerging that Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen finally let the cat out of the bag on the underhand deals that have characterised parliamentary committees over the years.
A claim by a lawmaker that a parliamentary watchdog committee has been converted into “a toll station to cleanse” the corrupt ahead of this year’s General Election has caused a stir among Members of Parliament (MPs).
On Thursday, Mr Murkomen sensationally claimed that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), chaired by Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo, had abandoned its primary mandate and was being used to settle political scores.
“PAC is a toll station for collecting bribes and goodies for MPs including its chairman who is running for a governor’s position,” said the vocal politician, who is an ardent supporter of Jubilee.
His outburst came on the same day the committee released a damning report on the National Youth Service scandal in which more than Sh1.8 billion was lost.
In a rejoinder, the committee’s chairman has dismissed Mr Murkomen’s bribery allegations, terming his protests the kicks of a dying horse after investigations revealed he was culpable. “That is absolute rubbish. Maybe he lives permanently on bribes and kickbacks and now he thinks everyone else is like him,” Mr Gumbo hit back.
He sought to clarify that the committee’s recommendations were based purely on the fact that Mr Murkomen’s law firm produced no evidence to show it did any work for Out of the Box Solutions, yet it was paid.
The law firm received Sh15 million from Out of the Box Solutions, a company that was paid Sh90 million from the youth fund accounts, according to the committee.
Mr Murkomen was further infuriated by a section of the report that directed the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to prosecute him and his partners at the Sing’oei, Murkomen and Sigei Advocates, for aiding money laundering.
“No individual Kenyan can purport to subvert constitutional order by directing the DPP to charge any Kenyan,” Mr Murkomen, who is the Senate Deputy Majority Leader, said at Parliament Buildings.
He dismissed the committee’s assertion that Mr Hillary Sigei, the managing partner of the law firm, was investigated over withdrawal and use of Sh500,000, which was proceeds of crime from the firm’s client accounts.
“No client has complained. It is only PAC that is complaining. The committee is criminalising legal practice and undermining the work of professionals,” said Mr Murkomen.
The senator said he had raised concerns with the Powers and Privileges Committee, chaired by Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi, and was awaiting a response.
But Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetang’ula has dismissed Mr Murkomen’s assertion that he was a victim of witch-hunt, saying he was playing to the public gallery by painting Parliament as a corrupt institution, instead of defending himself.
“There is an old saying that goes: a thief thinks everybody else is a thief. Casting aspersions and name-calling of committee members does not take away his culpability,” he said. As a lawyer, he knows that you must defend yourself to show innocence.”
The National Super Alliance co-principal warned Mr Murkomen against displaying “inexplicable arrogance and belittling others”, saying such populist approaches would not work in law.
He defended the move by PAC to recommend further investigations into the youth fund saga, saying such a move should not be viewed as wastage of time and a deliberate attempt to suppress justice.
“A parliamentary committee has powers to investigate, and order prosecution, surcharging and restitution. But the ultimate power to prosecute rests with the DPP who will evaluate the evidence independently,” Mr Wetang’ula said.
Parliament, he explained, could have received additional information that was not available to the DPP and the investigating agencies, when they dealt with the matter.
“Where such colossal sums of money are lost, investigations are desirable to eliminate any doubt whatsoever,” said the Bungoma senator.
The DPP, he said, can go beyond and prosecute people who have been cleared by Parliament or any other institution, because his investigative ability in matters of criminal nature is different from Parliament’s.
He termed it wrong for a lawmaker to undermine an institution as highly regarded as Parliament, “just because he has found himself on the wrong side of the law”.
Two years ago PAC, then chaired by Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba, had to be reconstituted.
This is after Parliament adopted the recommendations of the Powers and Privileges Committee to disband it over corruption allegations.
Some members of the committee accused their colleagues of taking bribes to disregard evidence and vote in favour of those being investigated.
In 2013, Lugari MP Ayub Savula was kicked out as the chairman of the Parliamentary Agriculture Committee by members who cited incompetence, conflict of interest, lack of commitment and a dispute over matters related to foreign trips. Mr Savula said the vote of no confidence was brought by members out to frustrate his leadership at the committee.
Early this month, two senators – Kennedy Mong’are (Nyamira) and George Khaniri (Vihiga) – were removed from the Senate County Public Accounts and Investments Committee, which is a thorn in the flesh of governors. Mr Mong’are blamed politics ahead of the General Election.
Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale blamed Jubilee aligned MPs for the failures in the war against corruption, saying they were extensions of the Executive instead of playing oversight roles. He said Auditor-General Edward Ouko was being persecuted because there was a plot to weaken the war against graft.
Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr said corruption was contributing to wastage of resources that could have enhanced development.