- Are parliamentary committees the viable vehicles for interrogating public interest matters?
- Do they have the competence and aptitude to probe such matters?
- Do they inspire confidence when they hobnob with some of the parties being interrogated?
It is not a surprise that Parliament has rejected the report on the sugar scandal. Right from the onset, the investigation into the controversial sugar imports was doomed to fail. The question, therefore, is, are parliamentary committees the viable vehicles for interrogating public interest matters? Do they have the competence and aptitude to probe such matters? Do they inspire confidence when they hobnob with some of the parties being interrogated?
What of the spurious and unfounded recommendations that they make? When, for example, the reports indict Cabinet secretaries, do they provide a direct link to how they played a part in the matter? Conversely, when they extricate those apparently culpable, do they provide justification for it? How will the government now deal with illegal sugar imports?
It is parliamentary practice to investigate matters through departmental committees. In this case, Trade and Agriculture committees led the sugar probe. The essence of parliamentary investigations is that it is open to the public and, therefore, parties other than those involved can make submissions to inform the exercise.
But experience has now shown that the committees tend to be divided or sometimes driven by vested interests. Matters are made worse by the fact that members are often compromised. When the joint committee presented its first draft report a few weeks ago, it was rejected precisely because it was shoddily done. Conclusions had been made without supporting evidence, which is the reason Speaker Justin Muturi sent the MPs back to the drawing board.
However, the final report has faced a similar fate of rejection. Several issues were at play. In and outside Parliament, politicians turned the report into a punching bag. Some fought it because it was perceived as crafted to ‘fix’ some individuals in government. Others found it an opportunity to settle political differences. Whichever the case, such orientation was wrong.
It will take rather long to determine the authenticity of the claims made on the illegal sugar deal. It will be difficult to establish whether the sugar was contaminated, who did the importation and who evaded taxes. This is a tragic end and a costly one because the committee has spent enormous sums of public money.
We note that Mr Muturi recently spelt out guidelines for MPs in conducting public investigations. More than ever before, MPs must take the committee work seriously and insist on professionalism. It is unfair for the investigations to be used either to cleanse or falsely accuse public officials. Recommendations must be based on solid evidence and reasoned argument.
Finally, discussions in the House must be objective. We cannot afford wasting more public money on meaningless investigations.