Murang’a Governor Mwangi Wa Iria risks jail for failing to provide information demanded by a Senate watchdog committee that investigated alleged corruption in a land-purchase deal.
The Senate has formally referred the matter to Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko, who may direct police to arrest the governor.
The courts have an option of slapping the governor with a fine not exceeding Sh5 million, lock him up for a maximum of three years or both.
Senate County Public Accounts and Investments Committee chairman Anyang’ Nyong’o said the penalty is provided for in the Public Audit Act, which guides their operations.
Prof Nyong’o said Mr Wa Iria deliberately decided to dwell on sideshows during the committee's meeting on October 27, when he was asked to respond to audit queries raised by the auditor-general.
He said the county boss, who was declared a hostile witness, refused to give any response to concerns that he purchased 34 acres of land at Sh340 million, way above the market rates.
Mr Wa Iria accused the committee, and particularly Murang'a Senator Kembi Gitura, of engaging in a political witch-hunt, saying the matter was conclusively dealt with during his impeachment proceedings last year.
Senators who reacted to a statement he presented before the House condemned the "grossly disorderly" conduct of the governor, saying he should face the law to serve as an example to other leaders.
Billow Kerrow (Mandera) said governors who belittle the work of committees and look for scapegoats when cornered over improper use of taxpayers’ money should face the law.
Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetang’ula (Bungoma) challenged the relevant arms of the government to cooperate with Parliament to deal with public officers who are not ready to account for public funds.
“You cannot aspire to hold public office and remove yourself from the realm of accountability. Those to whom questions are put have absolutely no reason for seeing malice in the questions,” Mr Wetang’ula said.
Mr Gitura said the Senate impeachment committee had made it clear that there were serious flaws in the Kenol-Kabati land transaction and recommended further investigations.
“Though the threshold for impeachment was not met, the committee concluded that money was lost. Those responsible (should be) surcharged,” Mr Gitura said.
Nominated senators Agnes Zani, Judith Sijeny and Catherine Mukite said it is unfair for governors to overreact and read mischief when asked to account for public funds.
“The governor’s action was so deliberate. It was more of a defence mechanism to avoid answering questions. Institutions must be respected,” Ms Sijeny said.
Previously, Mr Tobiko challenged lawmakers to amend the law to grant Parliament powers to make immediate arrests.
Mr Tobiko said parliamentary committees enjoy the powers of the High Court and they should be free to use police officers from the nearest police station to arrest leaders who defy summonses.
Just as Parliament respects the Judiciary and upholds court orders, Mr Tobiko said he expected the Judiciary to equally respect the principle of separation of powers when a parliamentary process is under way.
He noted that the current interpretation of the law that those who defy parliamentary summons must first be taken through a court process has frustrated the fight against runaway corruption.
Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission Deputy Chief Executive Officer Michael Mubea has also maintained that as state officers, governors are bound by Chapter Six of the Constitution on leadership and integrity.
As a result, Mr Mubea urged senators to submit reports of county bosses unwilling to account for public funds, saying the commission would present evidence for their prosecution.