A group of Kenyan members of parliament (MPs) has concluded a one week study tour in the United States. The study tour was aimed at capacity building and helping develop a manual for best practices for Kenya?s Public Accounts Committee. The three-member delegation, all members of Kenya parliament?s Public Accounts Committee, was led by its chairman and Ikolomani MP, Dr. Boni Khalwale.

?We are here on a learning process?, he said, ?We want to build capacity for our members, and to develop a manual for best practices of public accounting?.

Dr. Khalwale described Kenya?s Public Accounts Committee as the busiest of all committees of parliament in Kenya. ?This is the most important and the oldest, to the extent that its operation, unlike other committees of the house, is actually founded in the constitution of Kenya?.

He said corruption is a ?major challenge in our work?, because ?we found two major challenges; we already had pre-existing cases of mega-corruption in the country ? the Goldenberg [Goldenberg export compensation scandal, which cost Kenya billions of shillings in the early 1990s], Anglo Leasing scandal, and more recently the Maize scandal and the Triton Oil saga and others?.

Dr. Khalwale said the second challenge was serious back log in the examination of the records where the past committees were lagging behind up to as late as up to five years.

?We have been working on it aggressively?, he said and promised that ?by March 2010 we will have come up-to-date?. He said by then they will have more of performance auditing, ?value for money audits rather than just doing historical things for the sake of it?.

Dr. Khalwale exonerated the office of the Auditor General for the backlog in the examination of the records. ?Fortunately, the problem has not been the Controller and Auditor General. That office has been fairly efficient and timely?.

He said the problem has been the calendar of the legislature, and lack of goodwill from the executive arm of the government.

There has been a clash between the committee and the executive arm of government, culminating in the committee recommending the firing of the finance minister.

The committee has acted as the official opposition in the absence of a real one following the formation of the coalition Government.

?The way we have designed our modus operandi is such that we have not left them (government) with much option. In fact, we are not very popular with just about all the ministers. We even caused a vote of no confidence in a minister of finance?.

?Public accounting is not an area where you go for populism, you go there to perform?, he noted.

Dr Khalwale said that this study tour has been very beneficial to his delegation. ?In Kenya we are now going through the process of reform, he said, ?starting with the reform of the general constitution of the country and all aspects of the government will be affected by this review process?.

He said as far as public accounting is concerned, ?we have bad practices which have hitherto helped the executive to perpetuate corruption?. And now from what we have learned here in the USA and earlier from a World Bank seminar in Brighton, United Kingdom, we are now able to make the necessary corrections?.

Dr Khalwale cited some of the corrections as giving the office of the Controller and Auditor General security of tenure, and ensuring that the appointment to that office is not the preserve of the president.

He also mentioned that the committee has already made suggestions for amendment in the law. ?We want to create a public accounts police squad, so that when we are in session we have within the committee a pair of police officers ready to arrest any public officer if the committee recommends so?.

The chairman said that would send a clear signal that ?we are now practicing zero tolerance to corruption?  

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