Senate committee bars Mandago from Uasin Gishu session over conflict of interest

Finance Bill

Uasin Gishu County Governor Jonathan Bii from (left), Uasin Gishu Senator Jackson Mandago during a thanksgiving service and fundraiser in aid of St Stephen’s Oasis Anglican Church of Kenya in Eldoret, on June 11, 2023. The two leaders are not seeing eye to eye.

Photo credit: File I Nation Media Group

Uasin Gishu Senator Jackson Mandago has been barred from attending a Senate watchdog committee sitting over conflict of interest and possible intimidation of witnesses, as the rift with his successor widens.

The Senate County Public Accounts Committee (CPAC) ruled that former governors, who are now senators and whose tenure is being scrutinised by the committee, cannot take part in such proceedings.

Senator Mandago had wanted to attend a meeting of the committee on Thursday where Governor Jonathan Bii will appear to answer questions on the use of public funds by Uasin Gishu County.

The committee is considering the county executive's audit report for the financial year ending June 2020, when Mr Mandago was governor.

Senator Mandago and Governor Bii recently fell out and have not been seeing eye to eye, with senators fearing the animosity could spill over into Thursday's session.

On Wednesday, members of the committee unanimously decided not to allow Mr Mandago to attend the committee, even as a friend of the committee, due to conflict of interest and possible intimidation of witnesses.

Conflict of interest

“This committee has resolved not to allow Senator Jackson Mandago to be part of the proceedings over conflict of interest and possible intimidation of witnesses,” said the committee’s chairperson, Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang.

The committee had toyed with the idea of allowing the former governor to sit in as a friend of the committee, but this was abandoned when it became clear that it would not be tenable.

“We can allow him (Mandago) to attend but only introduce himself and not speak, interrogate or deliberate on matters before the committee. We want to be careful that we don’t close doors on other senators,” said Mr Kajwang.

Nyandarua Senator John Methu initially agreed with Mr Kajwang that Mr Mandago could attend but not be given the opportunity to actively participate in the proceedings.

“Let him be notified in advance that if he attends, he will not be allowed to interrogate any matter,” he said.

However, Mr Methu later changed his mind after the committee's legal officers raised concerns that the former governor's presence would amount to a conflict of interest and that if he was mentioned adversely, he might be tempted to rebut and, if allowed to do so, could invalidate the meeting.

“This is a very special circumstance and I agree that (Mr) Mandago should not attend the meeting. It is not that he is being locked out,” said Mr Methu.

Such meetings

Busia Senator Okiya Omtatah said it was only fair to treat senators in similar circumstances as Mr Mandago since former governors who are not currently senators are not allowed to attend such meetings.

“It is not like we are conducting a trial; it is just an inquiry. It will be untidy to have him around. We can ask him to stay away or he can excuse himself the same way Senator Ali Roba did,” said Mr Omtatah.

Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna said the Senate's Standing Orders, which allow senators to attend a committee as a friend, did not contemplate a situation where a former governor would be a senator, and this complicates the situation for Senator Mandago.

To address the emerging lacuna, he said Mr Mandago can be invited to appear before the committee at a later date if he is mentioned adversely during the proceedings.

“You cannot come here as a senator (and) then turn into a witness in the course of the proceedings. We have a procedural way of inviting witnesses and so the two must be separated because the committee cannot be ambushed,” said Mr Sifuna.