Members of Meru County Assembly voted to impeach Governor Kawira Mwangaza. The MCAs advanced numerous impeachment grounds, including nepotism and abuse of office. The governor, who this week went before a Senate committee, argues that the impeachment was political vendetta fuelled by the fact that she is politically “independent”. The Senate overturned her impeachment.
If the impeachment articles as advanced by the MCAs were partly or wholly true, then the governor has no business running a kindergarten, let alone a county government. However, if her impeachment was arising from disagreements on policy positions, or, as she claims, political vendetta, then the country as a whole must find a constitutional or statutory way of, (1) taming “ trigger-happy” MCAs; and (2) removing the obvious conflict of interest arising from senators presiding over cases of governors they have ambitions of replacing.
If we look at past impeachment cases, we notice that the process is open to abuse and political manipulation. For instance, one governor was impeached and removed from office for grand thievery while the impeachment of another, who was charged with murder, failed, and he went on to serve out his term.
A past report by the auditor-general indicated that almost all governors had serious audit queries, yet only a few of them faced impeachment. In the case of Makueni County, MCAs attempted to remove then-Governor Kivutha Kibwana because he refused to accommodate their unethical or even illegal monetary demands.
In other instances, governors avoided impeachment by succumbing to blackmail from MCAs. These discrepancies and mafia-style tactics indicate the need to standardise the threshold for impeachment so that the process is above political vendetta, whimsicality, frivolity and criminality.
Then there are conflict of interest issues. Can a senator or MCA who wants to succeed a governor be objective in a case involving the person he/she wants to replace? Similarly, can a senator or MCA who belongs to a party different from that of the governor be an impartial arbiter in a case involving the governor?
Also, some senators have integrity issues which, in more serious jurisdictions, would prove crippling to their political careers. For instance, in the last Senate, someone who was accused of buying wheelbarrows for tens of thousands of shillings apiece and ball pens for hundreds of shillings per pen when he was governor presided over the Senate, which supposedly oversights county expenditure! Other senators have been involved in malpractices or alleged thievery in their previous careers as lawyers or government officials. Can they oversight the spending of public funds in counties?
All this brings us back to a fundamental dilemma. We have institutions and constitutional infrastructure, but we have irredeemably morally compromised officials. The façade of constitutionalism gives us the illusion of progress, but we are in fact stagnated.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.