Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula on Tuesday denied responsibility for the embassy scandals in Parliament, instead blaming the officers in his ministry.
A move to save the minister by removing his name from the report will be voted on Wednesday morning.
“The long and short of it is this; ministers don’t deal with transactions. We deal with what we are given; ministers only deal with policies,” Mr Wetang’ula said.
“The minister does not procure, the minister does not sign cheques, the minister does not sign vouchers, the minister does not chair committees, the minister does not deal with budgets…” he went on as the Speaker brought his presentation to an end. It was a commanding and impressive presentation by the minister, but the argument he was making has been a favourite of every minister called to account by the House for alleged corruption in their ministries: that ministers do not deal with the detail, technocrats do.
Mr Wetang’ula distanced himself from the conduct of the officials in his ministry and said the existence of the two sale agreements in the Tokyo deal, the payment of Sh1.4 billion upfront and in cash and the presence of Kenyan embassy officials in the seller’s back when the transaction was done needed to be investigated further.
“If the committee recommends that we investigate, we should be investigating the right people,” he said.
The Sirisia MP’s argument was that any irregularities in the purchase and sale of the ministry’s land was the fault of the civil servants. Permanent secretary Thuita Mwangi is the accounting officer in the ministry and signed one of the sale agreements on behalf of the ministry.
The principle of political responsibility, ably applied since the Anglo Leasing scandals and based on a constitutional principle, hold ministers responsible for what happens in their ministries even where they can prove that decisions were taken by others.
The Serena team
At the start of his defence, Mr Wentag’ula demonstrated that the transactions in Cairo, Brussels and Lagos took place before he became minister, with the conclusion of negotiations in Brussels ending while he was busy with the Serena team in March 2008.
Parliament is debating the report of the departmental Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations, which recommends that the minister and the PS step aside to clear the way for corruption investigations.
The amendment to delete Mr Wetang’ula’s name from the report was moved by Kimilili MP Eseli Simiyu supported by Public Service minister Dalmas Otieno. The proposal was received with hostility by backbenchers with MPs Martha Karua, Isaac Ruto and Farah Maalim leading the opposition to the amendment.
They also rejected a proposal by Transport minister Amos Kimunya to extend the sitting so that they could debate the report to its conclusion.
Debate on the motion is expected to continue today. Dr Simiyu’s amendment, if passed, will effectively clear Mr Wetang’ula of any wrongdoing and leave the blame to the civil servants.
Dr Simiyu said there appeared to have been a breakdown in communication between the minister and the committee given his earlier claims that he was denied the full opportunity to be heard by the committee.
Had he been given the full chance, Mr Wetang’ula argued, the findings of the committee would have been different.
The minister told the House that he sought an opportunity to return to the committee and testify further, but the chairman, Mr Adan Keynan, told him that his presentation was final.
But Charles Kilonzo, the vice-chairman, rose on a point of order to say the minister had asked to respond to media reports, yet Parliament does not address what has been published in the Press.
Mr Wetang’ula insisted that on his second meeting with the committee last August, Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni asked the committee to allow him to appear again, but even this was rejected.
Dr Simiyu said he sought the deletion of Mr Wetang’ula’s name because further investigations were required to establish who was on the wrong.
“The recommendations appear harsh and out of context because like in the Brussels case, the minister was not in office at that time,” Dr Simiyu said.
Mr Otieno appeared to support the amendment and tore into the report, saying committee members should have thought about the country’s image, the officers’ reputations and to protect the leaders.
“The newspapers have been awash with all sorts of allegations on this matter, which gives the impression that things were so wrong in Tokyo and the whole government is corrupt,” Mr Otieno said.
He said it was wrong for the committee to argue that the officers should be sent packing since this will affect their reputation if they are cleared later.
Industrialisation assistant minister Ndiritu Muriithi expressed “surprise and consternation” at the minister’s apparent move to run away from political responsibility over the questionable deals.