Ouko’s press briefing opens new battle line

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By JOHN NGIRACHU
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With an hour-long press conference on Thursday morning, Auditor-General Edward Ouko opened another front in his now multi-pronged approach to the fight of his life as a public servant.

In choosing to broadcast the event live, media houses might have thought that Mr Ouko had called the press to announce his resignation – and what better than to do it live on TV mid-morning – but ended up offering him an opportunity to tell the public his side of an increasingly intriguing story.

He effectively gave his defence to the public to consider in its open court, adding to his defence to MPs considering the petition for his removal, the case filed in court and the political fight being fought on his behalf in Parliament, mostly by ODM MPs.

Now, Mr Ouko’s defence is in the courts, the political sphere and is already lodged in Parliament, as he filed the case after meeting the Finance Committee, and will no doubt be considered if Speaker Justin Muturi allows the team to defy the court order stopping its handling of the matter.

Mr Ouko repeated to the press, and the public, the defence he gave to the Finance, Trade and Planning Committee at a meeting on March 1 that lasted until 8 pm. in the night.

Later Thursday, MPs reacted with anger at the seeming provocation to Parliament by Mr Ouko when he said he would no longer attend any parliamentary proceedings on the matter because of the court case.

The MPs’ anger, and Mr Muturi’s later tongue-in-cheek remarks that committees should go ahead with scrutiny of the budgets, “even of those that think this House should not hold certain discussions” was an indicator of the deteriorating relationship between important State agencies.

It suggested that whichever way the matter goes, Mr Ouko’s handling of the petition has created bad blood between the Office of the Auditor-General, which he heads, and Parliament.

It also adds to the perennial hate-love relationship between Parliament and the Judiciary.

OUKO CRITICISED
Already, the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee is mulling over a proposal to take from the Judiciary some Sh200 million to pay for the costs of extending voter registration last month after orders by Justice Enock Chacha Mwita.

“We as a committee will be considering whether to remove that Sh200 million from the Judiciary. Interim orders should be issued in the presence of all parties. These orders have been unfair to the elections,” said Mr Samuel Chepkong’a, the chairman.

The anger towards Mr Ouko has been evident since the Finance Committee was told on Tuesday that the National Assembly had been served with the two orders by Justice George Odunga and Chacha Mwita stopping them from considering the petition by advocate Emmanuel Mwagambo Mwagonah.

At that meeting and later in the afternoon, MPs criticized Mr Ouko and the courts.

“The Auditor-General has not acted in good faith by going to court on this thing. Are we now allowing the courts to micromanage Parliament? That is a major issue, otherwise this Parliament will be useless,” said Bomet Central MP Ronald Tonui.

For Konoin MP Sammy Koech, the filing of the case resulted in a change of mind. “The petitioner now has a case,” he said.

Lawyers in the House Olago Aluoch and Millie Odhiambo stuck to the middle ground politically but were critical of the Auditor-General’s actions. 

“As Parliament, we need to guard our independence jealously, within the law,” said Mr Aluoch.

Ms Odhiambo described Okiya Omtatah, the activist whose case yielded the order by Justice Mwita, as a good man but said that “he jumped the gun on this one”.

“He should have let this go on and at the end decide whether to challenge the decision of the House,” said the Mbita MP.

JOLTED TO ACTION
At the end, it is hard to tell what will happen, and perhaps the best route is the good old ‘let’s wait and see’.

When the first petition against Mr Ouko was submitted to the National Assembly, its backers told this writer the overall intention was to prevent the Auditor-General from issuing damaging reports ahead of the next General Election.

The ongoing fight might just keep him engaged enough to avoid that but it should not be forgotten that even as he is kept busy, his staff is still hard at work.

Mr Ouko’s multiple defences have turned him from a seemingly docile individual at the head of the office Mr Muturi said is Parliament’s principal adviser on oversight of government spending to a fighter.

What that heralds is a matter that will be seen in the coming days.

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