A secretly recorded conversation between Cord leader Raila Odinga, and MPs Ababu Namwamba, Junet Mohammed and Samuel Arama has caused unease in the party and introduced a new twist to the corruption allegations in the Public Accounts Committee.
The Sunday Nation has learnt that the 22-minute conversation apparently recorded using Mr Namwamba’s mobile device is among evidence the Powers and Privileges Committee of the National Assembly will assess as it begins investigations into corruption allegations at PAC on Monday.
MPs familiar with the saga say the recording was made by Mr Namwamba, who is also the Budalang’i MP and ODM secretary-general, and was his “secret weapon” during an acrimonious February 26 PAC meeting that was meant to oust him as the watchdog committee’s chairman over allegations of corruption.
He was said to have used the recordings to accuse other committee members of receiving bribes.
On Thursday, National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi suspended the activities of the crucial watchdog committee.
In the recording, which the Sunday Nation has listened to, an MP in the meeting is heard telling Mr Odinga that a PAC member met a senior civil servant first at his office and then later at a hotel in Nairobi’s Hurlingham last year and collected at least Sh1.5 million.
Other members are alleged to have separately received payment.
The money, the MP says, was shared between certain members of PAC with the promise that they would exonerate the official in their report.
Mr Odinga, who the MPs refer to as “Your Excellency” throughout the meeting, is mostly quiet, occasionally prodding the legislator to say more.
The former Prime Minister speaks up towards the end, saying most of the problems in the committee stem from MPs’ disorganisation.
Mr Namwamba then says that the origin of PAC’s troubles is their investigation into the Sh2.8 billion confidential expenditure at the Office of the President.
Mr Odinga then states that having been in the National Security Advisory Council, he understands how the security agencies operate, by way of explaining the controversial expenditure.
In the recording, Mr Namwamba repeatedly attributes his troubles in PAC to a well-planned scheme by Majority Leader Aden Duale.
A voice is also heard telling Mr Odinga that Mr Mbadi, the ODM chairman, had told some Jubilee MPs the Opposition did not mind the ouster of the Budalang’i MP.
The existence of the recording has triggered animosity in ODM, with party officials reported to be angry with Mr Namwamba for secretly recording a private conversation with Mr Odinga and the other MPs.
Those close to Mr Odinga say he sees the action as a breach of trust by his party’s secretary general.
“That was totally irresponsible of him. You cannot secretly tape the party leader talking to members. How sure can we be that he does not do this and later play to our opponents?” an ODM MP, who did not want to be named, asked.
On Friday in a separate meeting with Mr Mbadi and Mr Mohammed, who is the Suna East MP and ODM party director of elections, Mr Odinga is said to have expressed his concern that the incessant wrangles were not good for the Opposition’s image.
“He invited them to discuss the discordant voices in the party and the PAC problem,” a source familiar with the deliberations told the Sunday Nation.
Although he had been invited, Mr Namwamba did not attend the Friday meeting since he was said to have been too engaged in his constituency at the time.
On Saturday, Mr Namwamba said: “The recordings will exonerate me. Starting this week, I’m going on an offensive aided by the truth. I have not been supported to a good extent by my party leader or Mr Moses Wetang’ula (Cord co-principal) as many media outlets have been reporting.”
The vocal MP, who has denied receiving bribes to influence PAC reports, said his priority was to clear his name.
“I’d rather leave the PAC chair. What matters to me right now is my reputation, which I will guard at all costs,” he added.
It is understood that Mr Namwamba reached out to his party leader on February 22 in a bid to get him to rally Cord MPs in PAC to support him ahead of the no-confidence motion he faced four days later.
To assist him make his case, he successfully sought out Mr Arama, the Nakuru Town West MP who was last year removed from PAC in a purge against perceived ODM rebels.
With Mr Mohammed in tow, Mr Odinga met Mr Namwamba and Mr Arama on February 22 before the Cord leader flew out to Belgium.
Mr Arama has denied that any such meeting took place despite being told about the existence of the recording.
Acting on that information, Mr Odinga called Cord MPs in PAC on the morning of February 26 toconvince them not to endorse the no-confidence motion against his party’s secretary general.
The former Prime Minister argued that if Mr Namwamba was to be removed as PAC chairman on the basis of corruption allegations, the party would lose the moral ground to challenge Jubilee on integrity issues.
He is reported to have asked the MPs to wait for his return from Lesotho, where he headed an election observer team, and have the matter addressed internally in Cord.
WON ON A TECHNICALITY
Mr Wetang’ula, the Senate Minority Leader, was also said to have convened meetings to lobby against the removal of Mr Namwamba ahead of the stormy PAC meeting.
It was at the meeting — which featured weeping, shouting, name-calling and vicious exchanges as accusations were traded across the round table at PAC’s reserved Committee Room 9 — that Mr Namwamba is reported to have announced that he had evidence to show some of his colleagues had received bribes.
At one point, a member told the Sunday Nation, Runyenjes MP Cecily Mbarire, the PAC vice chairperson, claimed that Mr Mohammed was the instigator of the plan to remove Mr Namwamba.
It culminated in a vote that Mr Namwamba won on a technicality, as his opponents could not get the 14 votes required to remove him, garnering 13 as his side got nine.
The recording was not played at the PAC meeting but was among evidence Mr Namwamba said he had shared with National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, who would in turn hand it over to the Powers and Privileges Committee.
The controversy around the tape’s existence also surfaced at the committee’s meeting last Thursday morning before the Speaker suspended the team’s activities hours later.
“He (Mr Namwamba) said he has a tape recording and we said that before we can be able to sit as a committee, then we needed to listen to that tape,” said Maara MP Kareke Mbiuki, a PAC member.
Mr Mbiuki told the Sunday Nation he was happy there was a formal avenue for the rumours that have been doing the rounds in Parliament’s corridors to be put on the table.
“When he (Mr Namwamba) will be called upon, he’ll be able to substantiate the source of his information. Those members that the chairman named will also be called upon. The truth will come out because what has been happening in the corridors of Parliament is nothing but allegations and counter-allegations. There are allegations left, right and centre but now the truth will come out,” said Mr Mbiuki.
Mr Mbadi told the Sunday Nation he had heard there was a recording.
“I’m also just hearing that there was a recording and the party leader was in it but I haven’t listened to it. Initially what I heard was that there were four members in it,” said the Suba MP.
That recording will be among the evidence the Powers and Privileges team will handle when they begin their investigation on Monday.
MEMBERS WERE SURPRISED
PAC’s infighting also threatened to drag in Speaker Justin Muturi.
A day after the disgruntled PAC members interrupted a meeting to adopt the report on the special audit of the Judicial Service Commission and made their intentions against Mr Namwamba known, Mr Muturi was invited to the committee.
He arrived under the impression that it was the MPs who wanted him there but the members were apparently surprised to see him.
Mr Muturi was then told to wait, and that the committee would seek his intervention when necessary.
It is understood that the Speaker handed over the leadership of the Powers and Privileges team to Kuresoi North MP (Kanu) Moses Cheboi because of his (Mr Muturi’s) previous involvement in the matter.
When the matter was brought up by Mr Duale in the House on Wednesday, Mr Namwamba appeared to challenge the Speaker not to use the allegations made against a few members of the committee to punish the whole team.
Mr Namwamba is among MPs who are unhappy with the decision to suspend the committee until after the investigation is ended and has the support of Mr Mbadi.
Mr Namwamba’s tactics appeared to have created a perfect storm in the National Assembly, whose leaders then headed to Serena Beach Hotel in the Coast at the end of last week with the tainted image of the House top on their minds.
In addition to the chaos of December 18, where the House deteriorated into a mass brawl and the Security Laws Amendment Act was passed in questionable circumstances, there was now the integrity question to look at. It resulted in the decision by Mr Duale to ask for the Speaker’s ruling on the matter.
But Mr Mbadi has questioned the investigation.
“For a serious matter like this, you need an independent investigation. You cannot give it to another political body. The Powers and Privileges Committee is purely political. It can be misused,” he said.
Mr Mbadi argued that with allegations of bribery having been made about several committees besides PAC, it would have been prudent to have an independent institution such as the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission investigate.
The Suba MP said PAC should have been dissolved and reconstituted because members have effectively been tainted by the allegations.