African Press International (API)

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Kenya: The cracking cabinet

Posted by African Press International on May 15, 2008

Publisher; Korir, africanpress@getmail.no source.standard.ke

The Grand Coalition Government appeared under attack from at least four fronts on the eve of its first Cabinet meeting to be chaired by President Kibaki at State House, Nairobi, from 10am today.

In Parliament alone, over the last two weeks, two fronts have opened up. Yesterday for the first time in 45 years members realised they could actually determine the size of the Cabinet. And last week, they passed a Motion that could pave way for debate on the formation of Grand Opposition.

Outside Parliament, a growing demand for amnesty by mostly Rift Valley MPs for suspects of the post-election violence that left at least 1,000 people dead, hundreds of others maimed or traumatised for life and property worth millions of shillings reduced to rubble, appeared to split the Government down the middle.

Add to this the Mungiki and Saboti Land Defence Force (SLDF) militia phenomenon over which the Prime Minister, Mr Raila Odinga, appears to be reading from a different script from that held by Prof George Saitoti, the Internal Security minister, and at least half a dozen Cabinet colleagues and the agenda for todays meeting becomes a mouthful.

There is also the little matter of control of the Cabinet that has pitted hardliners in President Kibakis PNU against those of the PMs ODM in a silent war of attrition.

And intra-party schisms deepened when a key Raila ally, Mr William Ruto, the Eldoret North MP and Agriculture minister, supported the formation of a Grand Opposition, arguing that a system of checks and balances was necessary.

Unity document not tabled

All that notwithstanding, it is not clear if a draft policy document authored by Mr Mutula Kilonzo, the Mbooni MP and Nairobi Metropolitan minister, that structured the Grand Coalition Government and outlined how it would work was not tabled before the National Dialogue and Reconciliation Committee on Wednesday as earlier envisaged.

The document was expected to clearly spell out the role of the PM and to put to an end among other things some of the embarrassing public confusion over roles as witnessed at State functions in recent times between Raila and Vice-President, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka.

Ministers and PSs were also understood to be in a last minute flurry yesterday preparing what sources described as “status briefs” of their respective dockets ahead of todays meeting.

It is within this background that President Kibaki will today, at a forum in which the future role of the PM could also become clearer, chair his first Cabinet meeting.

On Wednesday, a statement from the Director of Presidential Press Service (PPS), Mr Isaiya Kabira, read: “The President will tomorrow chair the first formal Cabinet meeting of the Grand Coalition Government.”

But even as the word on the Cabinet meeting was put out separately by State House and the PM, thorny issues that have stretched the fledgling fabric of the coalition cast a dark shadow on the session.

Seeking a common ground

President Kibaki, as the chair, would hope that the ministers remember the induction meeting at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies last weekend, where they were taught etiquette and co-existence in Government.

The Presidents clarion call at the historic meeting was: “We are members of one Government and colleagues in Cabinet who should always feel free to reach out to one another.”

Today, President Kibaki and Raila will attempt to work out a common ground in the Cabinet of 42 members, who have taken sharply differing views on at least four key issues that seem to have put the coalition under siege.

On his part, Raila said there were many “weighty matters” in which collective decision of the Cabinet was required as opposed to unilateral decisions by individual ministers.

The PM is against plans for a Grand Opposition, but has stated his interest in dialogue with Mungiki, an outlawed sect.

On militia groups, Raila said: “I will present the concerns of Mungiki and the Sabaot Land Defence Force before Cabinet tomorrow (today) before a collective decision is made.

On Tuesday, Saitoti told Parliament that there was no formal Government dialogue going on with Mungiki, also terming the issue as “weighty”.

But in reference to what Saitoti said, Raila added: “There are no contradictions over talking to Mungiki. My colleague Saitoti just echoed the true position of Government. But we will meet and reach a consensus.”

The PM was speaking after meeting a delegation of leaders from Mt Elgon District, led by the local MP, Mr Fred Kapondi, former legislators, Mr Wilberforce Kisiero and Mr David Moiben, and clerics at his Treasury office.

The militia issue also featured in Parliament when Ndaragwa MP, Mr Jeremiah Kioni, gave notice of a Motion seeking the establishment of a select committee to investigate Mungiki and other militia groups.

Kioni said the unlawful groups drew their membership mainly from the youth. The Government, he said, had unsuccessfully attempted to crack down on them in the past.

But there will also be the matter of bloated numbers for the Cabinet to ponder at todays inaugural session. Yesterday, through a private members Motion, Turkana Central MP, Mr Ekwee Ethuro (PNU), was given authority to bring a Bill to create offices of Ministers of the Government and to regulate their number.

Equally unsettling is the growing pressure to release post-election violence suspects, a matter that is beginning to divide the Cabinet down the middle.

A group of Rift Valley MPs, comprising Mr Zakayo Cheruiyot, Mr Franklin Bett and Dr Julius Kones yesterday pressured the Government to release the suspects.

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API

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