Anthony Mwangi, Mercy Mwai and Irene Githinji @PeopleDailyKe
Parliament is on a collision course with the Executive over a move by Cabinet Secretaries to snub House departmental committees.
The issue came up yesterday when two Cabinet Secretaries gave two committee sittings a wide berth, claiming they had been ordered to attend a meeting convened by Interior Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i.
It emerged that CSs had received stern instructions to attend the National Development Implementation and Communication Committee chaired by Matiang’i without fail. Legislators have now raised the red flag over the alleged instructions, which they claim are meant to undermine their mandate.
Two CSs, Mwangi Kiunjuri (Agriculture) and James Macharia (Transport) skipped meetings with parliamentary committees yesterday as they had to attend the Matiang’i one.
Kiunjuri was to appear before the committee to respond to the proposed importation of maize claims while Macharia was expected to appear before the Transport Committee over the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) compensation.
Furious members of the the National Assembly’s Agriculture Committee expressed displeasure over the move by the Executive to ignore parliamentary business. According to committee chairman Adan Haji, Kiunjuri had informed them that he was to attend the Matiang’i meeting which is compulsory for CSs.
“Kiunjuri informed us that he would not be able to attend our meeting because they had a Cabinet sub-committee meeting chaired by Matiang’i that is mandatory for him to attend. He, however, said he will be coming tomorrow (today).”
Haji said the committee had decided to alert the Speaker about the issue. “We are going to informally write to the Speaker so that he can take up the matter with the Presidency. Otherwise, our feeling is that we are being undermined,” said Haji.
However, a source at the Presidency said MPs had been asked to avoid summoning ministers on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are reserved for Cabinet meetings.
“We have also requested them not to summon Principal Secretaries on Wednesdays because that is their meeting day,” the source added.
MPs were also accused of not following procedure when summoning CSs, such as giving adequate notice.
“Sometimes MPs summon CSs to Mombasa on short notice and end up asking questions for six minutes before disappearing. Sometimes they are motivated by allowances.”
It was also expensive to ferry big groups of people outside Nairobi because ministers have to be accompanied by technical officers. The concern by the MPs came as State House Spokesperson Kanze Dena said the Cabinet had not held its meetings in the last four weeks but dismissed claims of division as mere speculation.
“As far as Cabinet meetings are concerned, they are convened with a reason and indeed, Cabinet has not met in the last four weeks because there have been other issues going on, once the meeting comes up it will be communicated,” Dena said.
Speaking at State House, Nairobi, she clarified that should the need arise, Cabinet Secretaries will be immediately notified. Industrialisation CS Peter Munya has since been fined Sh500,000 by the Senate as stipulated in the Standing Orders for failing to honour committee sittings under the guise of attending the sub-committee meetings.
“The issue of CSs meeting committee sessions has become rampant, we had to fine Munya to deter others,” said Senator Charles Kibiru, chairman of Senate Standing Committee on Tourism, Trade and Industrialisation.
Transport Committee members also waited in vain for Macharia to appear only for his
Transport Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Chris Obure, who had been sent to represent Macharia, had a rough time as he tried to explain that the CS could not attend the meeting because he was engaged elsewhere.
“My CS is attending the sub-committee meeting and hence cannot make it to this meeting,” Obure told the committee. But South Mugirango MP Silvanus Osoro said they have been told that the sub-committee meetings are a must attend as they normally take stock of the development and ongoing projects in ministries.
The MPs who spoke before they addressed a press conference were heard saying that CSs were under strict instructions not to miss any of the meetings which mainly audits the performances of their ministries.
“The sub-committee meetings are a must attend and one cannot afford to miss them lest he or she gets a tongue lashing ,” said Osoro.
Although some of the MPs did not want to be quoted, they claimed some of the CSs had complained that Matiang’í had become like their prefect as he had made it clear that no one should miss his meetings.