By Koigi Wa Wamwere
Parliament elected me as the chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in April 1981.
However, the State moved against me. President Moi even threatened me. He said if I did not resign from the leadership of PAC, he would dissolve the committee. He had dissolved the Foreign Affairs Committee earlier.
Corrupt civil servants contested my position as the chairperson of the committee. They feared that I would use the committee to witch-hunt civil servants. The President’s threat was neither fair nor right. The civil servants’ charge was also baseless.
Therefore, I refused to budge. Budging would have meant conceding that the executive had a right to interfere in the functioning of the committee.
I lost my seat to corruption
Nevertheless, the government had the muscles that I lacked. Finally, it forced the other members into the government-sponsored elections to vote me out of the leadership.
They did this supposedly in order to “save” the committee from Presidential dissolution. Yet, in reality, it was in order to subject the committee to the dictates of the executive.
Once the executive succeeded in imposing a chairperson on the committee, the committee would be no more in a position to expose corruption. It could only conceal it.
Inside the committee, corruption varied from the President giving members of the committee extra jobs as directors of this or that parastatal, or licenses for lucrative businesses.
Once, the MP who became chair of the committee after I, told us that committee membership was our only chance to get what we wanted from the government that was anxious to have us conceal or not dig up corruption.
Sure enough, the said MP soon secured the leadership of a Presidential commission.
Inside the committee, guilty parties who feared negative recommendations from the committee offered outright bribes of money to members of the committee. These bribes were to persuade members not to vote in the committee against such parties.
They tried to bribe me but I refused
One day, an assistant minister for health called me out of a PAC meeting. He wanted to give me KSh25,000 from a pharmaceutical company.
The company wanted parliament to remove it from a blacklist of companies that could no longer supply drugs to public hospitals because of malpractices.
I turned down the bribe, unlike another MP who had accepted a brand new Mercedes Benz to defend a guilty company on the floor of the House. The corrupt assistant minister soon became a full minister.
Shariff Nassir called us fools for refusing to take these bribes. “Do you think anybody here depends on his salary? You will die a poor man if that is what you think.” We told him “man does not live by bread alone”.
Soon after, the government silenced me more permanently by taking me out of Parliament and detaining me. Yet, even after the Second Liberation, Parliament remains captive to corruption.
In March 2012, a report chaired by Hon Mohammed Affey on the distribution of advertisement funds outside the Public Procurement & Disposal Act never saw the floor of Parliament in circumstances that smacked of graft.
My best school about corruption as perpetrated for wealth rather than need was the years that I was a member of Public Accounts Committee in both the fourth and the ninth Parliament.
Of all committees in the fourth Parliament, only PAC seemed to draw respect from top civil servants. Their attitude towards Parliament was contemptuous, to say the least.
The executive could not help but see Parliament as a toothless bulldog, which it still is. Yet, some civil servants think that the committee can bite. This is despite that the government has perfected the art and science of emasculating Parliament.
PAC is still as good as dead
For the entire period that I was a member of PAC in the fourth Parliament, PAC recommendations to Parliament were only noted. Parliament never adopted or implemented them against the many cases of blatant corruption in the Kenya government.
The PAC was and still is, for all practical purposes, as good as dead.
In fact, every time we tabled our recommendations to Parliament, we found ministers doing all they could to kill the report. This included colluding with the Speaker not to allow members of the PAC to speak in Parliament.
Every time members emasculated and killed a PAC report on the floor of Parliament, as an MP, I felt dejected and emasculated.
Corruption runs through every vein of our body politic. Even the PAC, the last institutional safeguard against corruption, is not free from the scourge of this cancer.
Using the state and Parliament, the forces of corruption have managed to emasculate the PAC. They have turned it into a gravy train, a voiceless and toothless watchdog. It no longer has the voice to bark at and frighten, or teeth to bite thieves of public funds.
It can only extort bribes from thieves. Thereafter. it can only silently watch as the thieves come and go, taking with them whatever they able to carry.