Democracy and its legislative component comes at a cost the taxpayer must bear. But like any other cost, it ought to be weighed against gains.
Whether or not Kenyans can afford the extravagance of MPs is a question gaining currency and the reasons have to do with their disproportionate slant to acquisition, specifically as they perform their oversight role in House committees.
Committees are the platforms where significant legislative functions are performed. Unfortunately, they are also proving to be conduits where easy, undeserved cash in a virtual rat race is minted by legislators.
Kenyans do not expect their MPs to do charity work, but they are nonetheless alarmed by litany of ways these honourable leaders have devised to feather their nests.
The misgivings have to do with how the sitting allowance, travel costs to varied destinations, report writing and other stipends are milked to maximise returns is what is now eye-popping.
And as an alarmed National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi warned last week, a creeping tendency to get overly cosy with individuals committees might be probing, and the cash that subsequently change hands has become phenomenal scandal with estimates putting it at Sh500 million by the 12th Parliament to date.
Invariably, the destinations for committee deliberation and specifically report writing are outside Nairobi with high-end hotels in Mombasa and Naivasha their favourite.
Let’s put this into context—and this does not imply culpability. The Environment Committee is currently in Mombasa touring the Kibarani dumpsite to inspect damage done to the Indian Ocean after which they will return to Nairobi to debate on the matter then likely retreat back to the coastal city to write their report.
Indeed, in a special audit, Auditor General Edward Ouko cites a Sh133 million debt owed to air travel agents and hotels.
With each of the 19 MPs of a committee entitled to a daily allowance of Sh5,000, the daily expenditure is Sh95,000 which sums up at Sh475,000 a week.
Further, Parliament pays Sh30,000 for return air tickets for each member which translates to Sh570,000 for the entire team.
And considering that members are booked in five-star hotels where charges per day range between Sh12,000 and Sh14,000, Parliament spends Sh266,000 daily, meaning that at least Sh1,330,000 is spent on accommodation.
In total, a single committee sitting in Mombasa for report writing costs the taxpayer Sh2,375,000 in allowances and other expenses.
Committee business involves report writing which in essence implies that during a given duration of a session of Parliament, all their deliberations end up in a report made.
With National Assembly’s 32 committees, Parliament spends a tidy Sh76 million on report writing.
This figure could, however, go higher if a committee is involved in doing several reports as some committees do as many as five reports per session.
And just like their counterparts in the National Assembly, senators also use the report writing retreats to mint cash.
Unlike the National Assembly, Senate committees have nine members each, meaning that Sh225,000 being spent on daily allowances and Sh1,125,000 for five-day sojourn. A further Sh270,000 is spent on air tickets and Sh630,000 in accommodation.
In total, a Senate committee spends Sh1,980,000 in writing a report and the figure could potentially rise to as much as Sh37.6 million after all the 19 committees work on a report each.
But last week an ad hoc Senate committee probing the Solai Dam tragedy made history by becoming the first House team to write a report in a record two days at the Kilanguni Resort Hotel.
In the report, the committee indicated that it had to look for a hideout away from interested parties who were allegedly pestering them.
With such expenditure, the committee probing sugar mess easily comes to mind because despite travelling to Mombasa to write a report, they returned to Nairobi empty-handed, only to seek more time to do one and are currently holed up at a city hotel to finalise the report to be tabled tomorrow.
We established that bribes to committees range from as low as Sh200,000 per member to Sh1 million, depending on the magnitude of the matter under probe.
Individuals, mainly State officials, and State agencies seeking favour from committees are now familiar with the process and come calling with cash to “buy” members, with the trail of unsavory bribery claims catching up with a number of MPs.
A member who is familiar with the deals told us that owing to the huge sums of the bribes, the money is often paid in foreign currencies, preferably in dollar bills.
The most recent case of brazen use of taxpayers money was when members of the Sports committee travelled to Russia to watch the Word Cup.
A committee chair recently received Sh200,000 from a parastatal chief who wanted to be cleared of audit queries while a committee chairperson who refuses to play ball is threatened with a vote of no confidence.
A committee investigating suspicious payments in the purchase of property is said to have received Sh40 million out of which the chair was to pocket Sh5 million.
A State parastatal under probe of a myriad of illegal procurements undertook to take committee members for a fully paid weekend treat in Nanyuki. A member confided that Sh30 million was subsequently paid out to be shared.
Another money minting venture has been the money allocation process by committees where ministries and other State agencies are forced to part with cash for the members to approve requested allocations. The tokens are not always in cash but other favours like tenders and jobs for relatives, friends or constituents.
The committees have taken the habit of holding too many sittings, summarily and even whimsically summoning anybody, including Cabinet secretaries under the guise of parliamentary committee “investigations”.
Increasingly, the MPs are encroaching on the territories of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and DCI through numerous dubious investigations.
The sugar matter is a perfect example of multi-layer investigations while Solai Dam calamity is another. Both cases are being dealt with by the DPP and the DCI with the same individuals MPs are summoning are the ones the DPP and the DCI have opened cases on.