Senate rejects Murang’a Governor Wa Iria’s impeachment

By: DENNIS ODUNGA

Governor Mwangi wa Iria will remain in office after the Senate rejected the reasons advanced by the Murang’a County Assembly for his removal from office.

The charges levelled against the governor do not meet the constitutional threshold for impeachment, according to a report tabled by a special 11-member committee, constituted to investigate the matter.

If the Assembly’s resolutions could have been adopted by the House, it would have seen the governor hand over office to his deputy for the remainder of the term.

The committee, chaired by Senator David Musila (Kitui, Wiper) was holed up at an undisclosed location, for the better part of Friday morning preparing the report.

At one point, anxiety grew and the lawmakers seemed impatient when the chairman and some of the committee members delayed to appear in the House for almost two hours.

They protested that they had been kept waiting even after Speaker Ekwee Ethuro suspended the special sitting from 3pm to 6:30pm, to allow the committee finalise the report.

Mr Musila said for the threshold of impeachment to stand the test of time, the allegations must be serious, substantial and weighty.

FLOUTED THE LAW

However, he admitted that the committee found the governor flouted some aspects of the law.

The committee, which had 10 days to report to the House if the allegations levelled against the governor were substantiated, started its work late because they had to wait for a court ruling on whether they could go ahead and hear the matter.

Mr Wa Iria was impeached on October 21, after 34 out of 49 MCAs voted for his removal for the alleged gross violation of the Constitution, gross misconduct and abuse of office.

Some senators did not hide their frustrations at the manner in which the matter was handled, saying that they were not given adequate time to interrogate the report before it was presented to the House.

Mr Ng’ang’a Mbugua, who represented the governor, maintained that the MCAs were offended when the county boss declined to approve an allocation of Sh700 million towards a proposed county development fund.

The lawyer said the Court of Appeal and the Senate, in previous impeachment cases, had noted that the motive behind every impeachment process is critical.

HEADED FOR VICTORY

It was evident from the two-day proceedings at County Hall, Nairobi, that the governor was headed for a victory after some of his actions were supported by the Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo.

Ms Odhiambo told the committee that the Transition Authority wrote to county governments allowing them to support infrastructure in schools and establish bursary funds for needy children.

The governor had been accused of spending public funds on functions meant for the national government.

She said the constitution only requires a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to be signed between the two levels of government, before the county governments undertake national functions.

“It happens especially with counties supporting security operations. We accept and release funds if the counties demonstrate that there is a MoU between a county and the national government entity that implements that function,” she said.

The governor’s lawyers said the 2013/14 Financial Year Auditor General’s Report, signed on August 17, had been considered by the county assembly as legally binding.

“Anything that contradicts the Constitution is null and void. We are discussing a report that has not been debated by the county assembly,” Mr Mbugua said.

Deputy Auditor-General Alex Rugera maintained that once the audit reports have been signed by the Auditor-General, they become public documents even if they are not debated in Parliament and the county assemblies.

PECULIAR FACTS

The county assembly’s lawyers, Mr Mbuthi Gathenji and Mr Peter Kimani had, in their final submissions to the committee, challenged the Senate to consider the case on its peculiar facts without being guided by previous judgments on impeachment.

They said the culture of chief executive officers passing the buck to junior officers when things go wrong while taking credit for success would increase incidents of fraud in the country.

“Saying we deal with procurement people and leave the CEOs, we shall be lowering that threshold too far. Then nobody will ever be held accountable yet resources are being lost at the counties,” Mr Kimani said.

The lawyers said the governor could not substantiate claims that some Sh340 million were irregularly used to purchase land given that only two companies responded instead of the legal minimum of three bidders.

‘ISSUE OF FRAUD’

“This is an issue of fraud. There is no answer. A fraud is a serious offense of criminal nature,” said Mr Gathenji.

They dismissed the governor’s argument that the third bidder sent his expression of interest through the post office saying records from the executive, two months after the tender box had been opened, indicated nothing had changed.

Besides, they said, a member of the tender committee participated in the tender evaluation process, which is against the procurement law.

“The evaluation report shows the third company was introduced during the tender evaluation to beat the law. This is not only an illegality but an irregularity that borders on fraud. It is a gross violation of the constitution,” Mr Kimani said.

Other members of the committee are the vice-chairwoman Fatuma Dullo (Nominated, TNA), Mr Billow Kerrow (Mandera, URP), Mr Abu Chiaba (Lamu, TNA), Mr John Lonyangapuo (West Pokot, Kanu), Mr Muriuki Karue (Nyandarua, TNA), Mr Stephen Sang (Nandi, URP), Ms Janet Ongera (Nominated, ODM), Ms Catherine Mukite (Nominated, Ford-K), Mr Stewart Madzayo (Kilifi, ODM) and Mr Moses Kajwang’ (Homabay, ODM).

SOURCE: DAILY NATION