The Politics of Vetting, Parliament and Government Scams

It Is said that a single day in the life of Kenyan politics is a very long time. This week has been one of Kenyan politics at its best. The results of this week speak for themselves: Kenya now has a new Chief Justice (CJ), Deputy Chief Justice (DCJ) and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) as well as 5 new Supreme Court Justices.

Also this week, Parliament reared its ugly head when debating the judicial nominees and the DPP nominee. Sadly, what I feared earlier this week has come to pass. Parliament failed to rise to the occasion and ensure that Kenya gets a suitable candidate beyond reproach as its first DPP under the new Constitution. This week also saw the release of an internal audit report by the Ministry of Finance stating that 4.2 Billion Shillings was misappropriated by the Ministry of Education in its Free Primary Education programme.

All these events sum up a week that will certainly go down in history as the most bittersweet 5 days of 2011.

Vetting fever:

If you ask me, what our JSC and CIOC have been doing here in Kenya isn’t actually vetting. It’s a dangerous concoction of selective witch-hunting, Guantanamo interrogation techniques and public dress-downs. But I guess we had to start somewhere. That said, our bare knuckle crude approach to vetting allowed more public participation in national affairs than has ever been witnessed in our country’s history. This ‘vetting’ process has gone a long way in inspiring long-lost public trust in the government’s commitment to issues of fairness, transparency, accountability and meritocracy.

This vetting was especially crucial in the appointment of the two top judiciary jobs namely, Chief Justice (CJ) and Deputy Chief Justice (DCJ). It is said that unlike the Executive which has the disciplined forces for implementation, the Judiciary draws its force from its institutional integrity intended to inspire public confidence. This public confidence is central to the Judicary’s role as an independent arbiter capable of delivering justice and providing for checks and balances on the Executive. Therefore with the new CJ-designate and DCJ-designate, the long-lost public confidence in the Judiciary could gradually be restored inspiring a new-found faith in the justice of our courts.

As a passing concern, I have reservations with the appointment of Njoki Ndungu to the Supreme Court alongside the CJ and DCJ. I’m all for gender equality and career progression but the astronomical promotion from Nominated MP to Supreme Court judge is questionable especially with many other highly qualified female judges being overlooked. I remain unconvinced that she has the necessary legal and judicial experience to sit in the highest court of the land. Given Ndungu’s connection with Parliament, I believe the public would have appreciated further probing on her past conduct and track-record.

Hell-bent parliament:

To my mind, if any group of Kenyans is in need of both vetting and neutering, it’s the Legislature. This week MPs turned the floor of Parliament into a national disgrace during debate on the DPP nominee. This process, I believe, has totally reversed all the good work done during the selection, interview and vetting stages of the nominations.

The public now looks at Parliament as a bunch of hired thugs willing to deliver jobs and favours to the highest bidder. Parliament’s job was to consider the CIOC report and then embark on robust and sober debate on the suitability of the DPP nominee in light of the allegations made. But instead an overwhelming majority of MPs appear to have gone to the House with bribes in their pockets and their minds already made up. It therefore goes without saying that Parliament is the weakest link in the process of obtaining competent, deserving and incorruptible public servants as envisaged in the Constitution.

For qualified Kenyans willing and able to serve Kenya, Chapter 15 of the Constitution (Commissions and Independent Offices) has become like the classifieds section of the newspaper. All the 10 Commissions listed have a similar appointment process which involves approval by Parliament. It is my view that in light of recent events in Parliament, suitable Kenyans with no political patronage feel discouraged to apply for these jobs due to lack of faith that the jobs will be allocated solely on merit and not based on politics.

Government scams and the never-ending blame-game

Ask around, Prof. Sam Ongeri is one of the brightest and most accomplished public figures alive. Even with his impressive mile-long CV, he continues to play dumb as gross misappropriation of public funds flourishes in the Ministry under his charge. When Ongeri says things like “there is no iota of a page where my name appears”, does he presume to be taking Kenyans for a ride? Ofcourse Kenyans know that it is the Permanent Secretary of every Ministry that signs all government documents with the concerned Minister’s approval!

However the more fundamental problem lies in a disturbing mentality among government leaders in this country. When Ministers and Heads of Public Institutions refuse to take personal responsibility for the acts and omissions of all those working under them, then this shows that we have serious problem in this country. In this new dawn, leadership of all public organs should be couched on the principle of collective and individual responsibility. It is the height of absurdity for Ongeri as the head of the Education Ministry to even attempt to pass the buck to junior officers within his own Ministry so as to escape blame.

Frankly, Ongeri should know better. The honourable thing to do at this stage would be to voluntarily resign or face the possibility of being forced to step aside.

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