A parliamentary committee investigating Bidco Africa Ltd, one of Kenya’s top manufacturers, adjourned prematurely after MPs declined to deal with senior employees who had been sent to represent the company.
The National Assembly’s Labour Committee chaired by Matungu MP David Were said the employees had no permission to respond to the allegations levelled against the Thika-based company.
Trouble started when Judy Momanyi (Lead-Corporate Affairs), Zipporah Mburu (Lead-Industrial Relations) and Aarti Issar told the committee that the Chief Executive Officer Vimal Shah could not attend because "he was out of town."
“It is the institution that is invited here. It is the head of that institution that is accountable to this committee, not the officers that work under him,” Mt Elgon MP John Serut said Thursday at Parliament
The lawmakers maintained that Mr Shah must appear in person to respond over claims that the company mistreated workers, evaded tax running into billions of shillings besides employing foreigners for jobs that can be done by Kenyans.
“This is a very serious committee. It spends public money to sit. Failure by your CEO to appear might force us to summon him. This committee has powers equivalent to a High Court. It is not a committee under a tree in a village,” Mr Serut said.
MPs Cornelly Serem (Aldai), Samuel Gichigi (Kipipiri), Dan Wanyama (Webuye West) Peris Tobiko (Kajiado East), Hassan Mwanyoha (Matuga) and Elijah Moindi (Nyaribari Masaba) accused the chief executive of belittling Parliament.
“Advise the CEO that we summon serious people including Cabinet secretaries and they come here running. By him thinking it is a short notice that is not right. It was unfair for him to take this committee for granted,” Mr Wanyama said.
The MPs said the CEO was creating an impression that some of the allegations in the petition would be true, given that he seems reluctant to come and defend the company.
“We have started seeing logic in what employees are complaining about, if this is how you can treat parliament,” Mr Gichigi said.
Speaker Justin Muturi had directed the Labour and Social Welfare Committee to interrogate a petition by 12 individuals, which was presented to the National Assembly by Kiambu Town MP Jude Njomo on behalf of the group.
The committee chairman briefly adjourned the committee to give the employees five minutes to reach out to the CEO before he makes a ruling.
However, the committee appeared infuriated further when Ms Momanyi said they were unable to get the CEO on his phone and asked to be allowed to prosecute the matter, since they had details of the issues.
“We can’t reach him on phone but we have the mandate from the CEO. We are the ones charged with the responsibility of the relevant department and we are able to respond to the petition,” she said.
But, the chairman disagreed, saying Mr Shah had not sent any communication authorising the employees to act on his behalf.
“We don’t know where you are getting this authority to appear here. You can’t commit the company on this matter,” Mr Were said.
Poor working conditions
The MPs are investigating claims that the company’s workers are subjected to poor working conditions and that most of them are employed as casual labourers, who do not benefit from statutory National Social Security Fund and the National Hospital Insurance Fund.
The CEO is also expected to respond to claims that workers who complain about the poor working terms are unfairly sacked and those injured at work are frustrated when seeking compensation.
The company has also been accused of warning its employees against joining the Thika-based Kenya Union of Commercial Food and Allied Workers.
The petition further alleges that the company had evaded tax by labelling its imports as raw materials while they were finished goods and falsely stating the contents of its imports.
The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), the petition indicates, had discovered that the company had evaded taxes, which is in excess of Sh1.2 billion.
The MPs are also tasked to establish if indeed it is true that a forensic audit in December 2015 revealed that the company’s unpaid duty and Value Added Tax (VAT) was about Sh4.3 billion, between 1992 and 1998.