For about a week, there has been a non-stop furore over a US trip by a contingent of lawmakers, ward representatives, parliamentary and county assembly staff numbering about 85, dispatched to attend the National Conference of State Legislatures in Nashville, Tennessee.
The outrage followed revelations by the Nation in its midweek headline story, where it questioned the logic of sending such a number of individuals to the summit at the taxpayer’s expense.
Countries like Portugal had only two representatives, with Japan sending six while Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, had 20.
The hue and cry was escalated, including by African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Raila Odinga, after the National Assembly attempted to censure the Nation for breaking the story.
Feeling targeted, lawmakers demanded an apology from the media house. In subsequent reporting, a breakdown of who went to the US was published.
The list wasn’t dominated by MPs, but was a mixture of all manner of staff from counties and Parliament, with the speakers of the Senate and the National Assembly leading the delegation.
Parliamentarians argue that those who made the trip belong to different committees of the two Houses – and possibly of the county assemblies – which individual committees have their own budgets for travel, which money was being justifiably being put to use.
This was in making the argument that the money had not been sourced from elsewhere.
As has become the trend, MPs have adopted the default position of going on the offence and defence, where they viciously attack anyone who criticises their appetite for money, while simultaneously attempting – a lot of times unsatisfactorily – to justify big bank accounts.
Their most recent display of the offence-defence tactic was when Salaries and Remuneration Commission chairperson Lyn Mengich challenged their attempt to award themselves a hefty monthly house allowance of Sh250,000.
The lawmakers argued that all they were doing was to create a level playing field as regards the remuneration of State officers, such that if judges, Cabinet and principal secretaries get a house allowance, then it is only fair that they have it too.
For the offence, the National Assembly threatened to slice Ms Mengich’s office budget.
This therefore means that lawmakers are not about to change their modus operandi and that the same thinking has cascaded to county assemblies, where non-mandatory foreign trips are the rule rather than the exception.
With this state of affairs, coming in the wake of fears that the cost of the US trip could be in the region of Sh100 million, what are Kenyans to do?
The answer, including for people like Mr Odinga who are very much part and parcel of the self-seeking political culture, is for us to elect the proper calibre of leaders from ward level to the presidency.
Calibre is a word that escapes the electorate. Kenyans choose to ignore it when it matters most.
A majority vacate their mental faculties every election cycle, only for them to spend the next five years lamenting at how bad the leadership is.
As long as the National Assembly, the Senate and the county assemblies are populated by morally bankrupt, intellectually half-baked elements solely preoccupied with primitive accumulation, self-preservation and the occasional free lunch, then the likes of the Nation and the SRC will continue having adversaries within those chambers meant for people’s representatives.
Truth is, we have been going round this circle of castigating MPs’ greed for ages because we have perfected the art of doublespeak.
For instance, what’s the calibre of MPs Mr Odinga’s party sends to Parliament?
Does he as the Orange Democratic Movement leader have the luxury to lament on the sidelines just like the rest of us when he would have put in place sufficient vetting to ensure only the finest make it into his party’s pre-election internal nominations?
The same applies to the voter. Why haven’t we learnt to not vote for the usual suspects, or do we want to have our cake and eat it too?
It is a very tired cliché which should no longer be in circulation, but it’s only mad men and women who do the same thing over and over again expecting a different results.