The angry bosses, led by Defence minister Yusuf Hajj, his assistant Joseph Nkaissery and the vice Chief of General Staff, Lt.Gen. Julius Karangi, said they won’t accept “to be misreported”.
Mr Hajj said that their Monday afternoon meeting meant to discuss procurement and the recruitment controversy was not reported accurately, because the issues about procurement were postponed, yet they were given prominence in news reports.
“In view of this, we feel we’ve been unfairly treated. Kenyans are being sensitised on matters that are not fair, yet these are matters of national security. I request that the journalists withdraw from our meeting. After all, the people to judge us are the committee,” the Defence minister said.
Mr Hajj was pugnacious from the moment he entered the committee room. He told journalists that he’ll fight tooth and nail to ensure they were kicked out.
“We are the ones who requested the committee to call you, yet you don’t write exactly what took place in here…you are demoralising officers who are taking care of this country,” he told journalists before the meeting began.
The issue, according to the military appears to stem from the fact that journalists did not give prominence to their statements about the controversial expulsion of military recruits from the training school in Eldoret.
In fact, on Monday, they had asked that only the part on recruitment be public, while the session in which procurement of special military vehicles and jet fighters, was to be held in camera.
But the meeting adjourned after the committee sought more time to discuss the matter.
Apparently, the prominence given to Lt.Gen. Karangi in news reports rubbed the minister and his assistant the wrong way, because “were the ones leading the vice Chief of General Staff and top technical officers” and ought to have been on the limelight.
Mr Nkaissery, himself a retired Major General said, it is the minister who is invited, “not the other way round”.
Lt.Gen. Karangi agreed: “I lead a team of technical officers as requested by the minister.”
The Vice CGS noted that the coverage in the media was “getting personalised” more so with regard to the procurement controversy.
“I support my two ministers that in the light of two reports on our previous meeting, I want to request the committee that we enter into discussions in camera,” said Lt. Gen. Karangi.
Mr Aden Keynan, the chairman of Parliament’s Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations, warned the military bosses that they ought to understand that “times have changed” and the media coverage of the House committees had “constitutional validity”.
Mr Keynan confirmed that the procurement issue was on the agenda only that the committee failed to discuss it following the adjournment of the meeting.
He said Parliament was not guided by what the media reported in carrying out its oversight mandate.
Mr Keynan read article 118 of the new Constitution with directs that “Parliament shall conduct its business in an open manner, and hold its sittings and those of its committees, in public.”
The new Constitution also orders the House to “facilitate public participation and involvement in the legislative and other business of Parliament and its committees.”
The committee chairman reminded the military top brass together with its political bigshots that journalists could only be ejected with the permission of the Speaker as provided for in the Constitution.
The new law states: “Parliament may not exclude the public, or any media, from any sitting unless in exceptional circumstances the relevant Speaker has determined that there are justifiable reasons for the exclusion.”
But even with his strong attempt to insist that the meeting should be held in public, Mr Keynan caved in to the military pressure, bent the law, and used his discretion provided in the Standing Orders to grant the request to have the meeting held in camera.
“Due to the unique circumstances, I grant the request of the minister and his team. Some of the issues that the Department of Defence wants to discuss with us, might require utmost secrecy. But as an institution you also need to update yourself that we have a new Constitution.”
Mr George Nyamweya (nominated, PNU) asked the journalists to be patriotic in the coverage of committee meetings.
“You must also be Kenyans. We’ve no problem if you people say when we are wrong, but sensationalism is a disservice to the country,” Mr Nyamweya said.
This is the first time that Defence and Foreign Relations Committee have ejected journalists in their meeting.
By Alphonce Shiundu, Daily Nation