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By CPA Patrick Mumo Muinde

As the curtains came down “Sine Die” for the 11th August House on June 15, 2017, some damning confessions from members of the house cast a thick shadow of doubt on the effectiveness of our public financial governance structure. While the admission by an outgoing MP to bribery of committee members to manipulate the outcome of matters before them is not news as it were, it’s the first time under the new constitutional order that this admission has been made before the mainstream media. Ironically, the word “August” is used to personify a great sense of dignity and supposedly meant to remind members of the sacred nature of the business they transact while in those precincts. How then do the words “Bribe” and the “August house” co-exist in the same sentence?

For those of us who may not be in the know, the Constitution of Kenya vests sweeping powers in the legislative arm of government as it relates to the handling of public resources. Unlike in the previous constitutional dispensation, the legislature has a major and active role in the allocation of public resources. This is in addition to their traditional “Sacred Oversight Responsibilities”. These sweeping powers are predicated on the members of the august house as elected representatives of the people, upon whom all sovereign power is vested in (Article 1 (1 &2)). The full weight of this misnomer in the August house becomes much clearer if we refer to Article 1 (4) that specifies that such powers are exercised at both national and county level. In other words, the happenings at The National Parliament implies similar occurrences (and this is an open secret) at the 47 County Assemblies.

With this knowledge in mind, the fundamental question to ask here is: “If the men and women upon whom a sacred responsibility of oversight is vested can be bribed with as little as Ksh. 20,000 to auction the interest and will of the people, what hope is left for Kenyans”? Who shall stand in guard for the trillions of tax payers money allocated every year to the various state Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs)?

The quick answer is that ultimately, the people of Kenya can exercise their sovereign power directly as per Article 1 (2) if they no longer trust their elected representatives. However, the modalities
of exercising this direct power is ridden with complex and delicate web that in reality may never be achieved unless the present “status quo” is broken. For example, when the all powerful Parliamentary Account Committee (PAC) of the 11th August house was riddled with a bribery scandal in 2015, the then chair Hon. Ababu Namwamba declared publicly that they were accountable as a committee and by extension the entire assembly of the house to no other power other than the people of Kenya. As true as it is, all we know is that the worst that happened was to remove the chair and a reconstitution of the committee with majority of the accused committee members retaining their seats in the reconstituted PAC. Another question then arises: How can the people of Kenya effectively exercise this sovereign power directly to hold their elected representatives accountable?

The Constitution provides at least 2 direct options (1) Through the ballot every five years (Articles (38, 81, 101 & 177 (1)), and (2) The recall clause (Articles 104). The third option can be inferred directly from Article 1 (2) and shall be the subject of my discussion in the rest of this article. Article 1(2) grants the citizens the right and powers to directly exercise their sovereignty in the governance and management of public affairs.

The constitution enshrines the direct exercise of this sovereignty by the citizens through public participation, especially in the governance and management of public resources (Articles 174 (c) & 201 (a)). The various legislations to operationalise the different chapters of the constitution have provided for diverse mechanisms to allow public participation in the governance of the country at both the national and devolved units. The various mechanisms include advertisements in both print, TV and Radio media; technology based platforms like websites and social media; public barazas; town hall type of engagements; and engagement of opinion leaders and professional groups.

Since the inauguration of the constitution in august 2010, these various mechanisms have been applied by the various government units and agencies to varying degrees. However, the most commonly used methods have been advertisements in the media, websites and public barazas. These commonly used public participation forums lack the intensity and engagement that can be achieved through town hall type meetings and engagement of opinion leaders and professional bodies. This takes us back to the central argument of this article on what options the citizens have to hold the August house accountable in the exercise of their oversight mandate as elected representatives of the people.

Referencing to the extensive powers vested on Parliament and county
assemblies in the management of public resources, it is high time citizens developed an organized forum through which they can hold the various committees of the legislature accountable for their actions. As confessed by outgoing members of the 11th August house, the absence of organized forums through which individual committees of the legislature can be held to account directly to the citizens creates a fertile ground for rogue elected representatives to auction their sacred obligations to the electorate to the lords of corruption in the executive. Ultimately, these actions compromise our entire governance and public financial management system. It thus comes as no surprise that Kenya ranks top among the most corrupt nations around the world, only next to what technically can be considered as failed states.

The question then is: who has the onus to spearhead this organized forum through which the legislature can be held to account directly to the citizens? Looking at our public finance management system, it’s my considered opinion that the onus lies with the accountancy professional bodies to spearhead this sovereign obligation of the citizens to oversight their elected representatives. As accountants, we are the men and women who have the technical know-how, capacity and legal authority to prepare, present and interpret financial reports to interested stakeholders. In addition, the financial reports tabled before the various committees of our legislature are work for our members in the exercise of their professional duties.

More fundamentally, as professional bodies, ICPAK and the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) have a moral and ethical responsibility to offer technical support to the society on matters that touch on our profession. Further, as a legal person, we have a civic responsibility as a good citizen to address matters of public interest for the greater good of our nation. Curiously, and as food for thought both as individual members of the profession and good citizens, have you ever wondered who interrogates the audited financial reports of parliament? Occasionally, serious and weighty audit queries on parliamentary accounts and financial claims by individual legislators have leaked to the public through the mainstream media. But do we ever see the accounting officers grilled for their actions of commission or omission before the relevant legislative committees as the accounting officers from the executive arm, judiciary and state corporations? Theoretically and practically, can the legislature be expected to objectively oversight itself?

In a nut shell, as the people of this great nation go to exercise their sovereign power and civic duty in this election season, it’s my humble prayer that we, the members of the profession shall rise to the occasion to fill this lacuna in our public finance oversight. And with that, I guess I can dare say….to the incoming new leadership of ICPAK…..that right there before you is the steamy cup of tea. Over to you!!!!

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