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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Kenyan MPs risk losing parliamentary immunity

Speaker Kenneth Marende (left) has indicated that the House will not be used as a fortress for criminals.
Photo/FILE Speaker Kenneth Marende (left) has indicated that the House will not be used as a fortress for criminals.  
Posted  Saturday, April 28  2012 at  22:30
MPs found culpable in extortion, bribery or other criminal conduct run the risk of prosecution, signalling that the days of legislators hiding under the cloak of parliamentary immunity and protection may fast be coming to an end.
If House Speaker Kenneth Marende actualises his threat to clamp down on the rot in Parliament, legislators’ immunity might be waived, exposing the corrupt to possible arrest and prosecution.
The Speaker has indicated that the House will not be used as a fortress for criminals. (READ: Marende gags MPs on corruption claims)
“No privileges of Parliament [will protect] any person from criminal prosecution for corruption or extortion,” he warned on Thursday.
Law enforcement
The Speaker’s stance appeared to be a signal that MPs facing corruption allegations could be dealt with by law enforcement agencies outside Parliament — most likely by the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Commissioner of Police.
It was also tailored to arrest MPs with a penchant for making wild allegations against colleagues within the comfort of the floor of the House.
The move is likely to stem the misuse of parliamentary protection by some MPs to besmirch opponents, a tendency that seems to be taking root as the country heads towards the General Election.
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“Parliament is committed to being law abiding. That statement is very loaded. I don’t want to say much beyond what I have said in that statement. You are very likely to witness very drastic changes soon,” he said.
He added that Parliament was ready and available to cooperate with law enforcement agencies “where appropriate” to ensure that criminal conduct alleged to have been committed by any MP is investigated and those found guilty are prosecuted.
Besides security agencies, the Speaker hopes to make use of the Privileges Committee, a critical and statutory team of Parliament, which he chairs.
The committee is vested with the authority to suspend an MP from the National Assembly in cases of proved misconduct for a maximum of 28 days.
The powerful committee can also recommend prosecution of an MP for criminal conduct and its decisions cannot be contested in any court — it is designed as a quasijudicial House committee to enforce issues of integrity and privilege.
Members of the committee include Attorney-General Githu Muigai, Education minister Mutula Kilonzo, Justice minister Eugene Wamalwa and MPs Martha Karua, Millie Odhiambo, Abdi Nuh, Chris Okemo and Fred Kapondi.
Others are assistant ministers Peter Munya and James Gesami.
Response to allegations
Mr Marende was giving a statement in the House in response to allegations by assistant minister Oburu Oginga linking Mutito MP Kiema Kilonzo to extortion.
Mr Oginga was unable to substantiate his claims, prompting the Speaker to expunge the claims from the records.
Mr Marende added that Ms Karua had filed a report with him and the Commissioner of Police on her allegations that PNU MPs were paid at Panafric Hotel while their ODM counterparts received money at Gazebo Restaurant hours before the Finance Bill was passed.
Backbenchers had earlier sworn not to pass the crucial Bill until the government forces banks to reduce their interest rates.
However, in what appeared to be a sudden change of heart, a majority of the Bill’s opponents voted for it, a move attributed to Mr Githae’s move to double MPs’ send-off package.
The Speaker added that the Privileges team, whose membership he described as professionally competent, will make “proper decisions”.
He also challenged Dr Oginga, MP for Bondo, to forward the allegations against Mr Kilonzo, to him “away from the Chamber” and the Privileges team for investigations “if he is bold and truthful”.
Mr Marende also directed Dr Odinga to report the allegations to the Commissioner of Police for investigations.

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