Kwamchetsi Makokha: Repeal Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1962

Now that Parliament is in a mood, Kenyans might just as well use it to do some national good. Through a private member's motion, the August House should take immediate steps to repeal the Commissions of Inquiry Act of 1962. That law, as it stands, allows the President to feign ignorance about matters that are too vexatious to him, appoint a team of individuals and let the problem lie.

Once one considers the fact that the President has access to all the information that National Security Intelligence Service, the Cabinet, police, the military, the Provincial Administration and whatever other agency gathers information, it is difficult to imagine anything he would be ignorant about.

Yet the law allows the President to appoint "commissioners to inquire into and report on matters of a public nature referred to them".

Commissions of inquiry are not meant to find out the truth. If they accidentally stumble on it, it is quickly buried in collective and official amnesia. Every time a commission of inquiry is set up to investigate any matter in Kenya, it is usually a warning that the State plans to do absolutely nothing about a problem.

When President Kibaki this week named commission of inquiry No. 34 to examine the brouhaha surrounding the Grand Regency sale that saw Mr Amos Kimunya depart from Treasury, albeit temporarily, my heart sank.

In a sense, the appointment of a commission of inquiry to look into a matter that involves crime is an admission that the public no longer has faith in the Police Force or the Office of the Attorney-General.

It is a confession that some interests in this country are above the law, as we know it. There is no law requiring that President act on their recommendations. Parliament, or any other institution for that matter, has no say in ensuring that they do their work. They are just one of the many toys the Constitution confers on the office of President.

Commissions of Inquiry only play on Kenyans' childlike trust in the presidency as the solver of all problems. That when all else fails, the President will act for the good of the country. Commissions of Inquiry — at least the investigative type — cost this country an arm and a leg to do what the police are hired to do. They are dramatic and entertaining, but that is just about all that citizens gain from them.

They buy time in moments of political crisis — such as after the death of Foreign minister Robert Ouko, the drama surrounding the Artur brothers' who were appointed commissioners of police, or the Goldenberg Affair. The Goldenberg Commission sat for many months and heard many people. It wrote a fine long report released in 2006. It is curious that before any culprit has been sent to jail as a result of its findings, another commission should be appointed to investigate a related matter.

Commissions of inquiry enjoy the same privileges as courts in summoning witnesses and taking evidence from them, but they are useless when it comes to punishing wrongdoing. It is about time Parliament took this lame excuse away from the Presidency and demanded some spine from that office.

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One Response to Kwamchetsi Makokha: Repeal Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1962

Betty said...

Dear Kwamchetsi,
How right you are, as usual! But will it be done? It provides such an excellent cover-up and by the time one commission has reported, our attention is already grabbed by the next. I despair.