News 2008


Deal: Govt in reverse gear?

March 11, 2008


By Standard Team

The Government appeared to engage reverse gear that could take momentum off a speedy enactment of the National Accord and Reconciliation Bill 2008, even as MPs prepared to discuss the landmark peace deal tomorrow.

When Head of Civil Service Mr Francis Muthaura emerged to "make a clarification" on the structure of Government on Monay, citing what he described as concerns created by various media reports, he appeared to suggest that in spite of a power-sharing deal, the office of an all-powerful presidency remains intact.

In itself, the timing appeared to send the wrong signals hardly a fortnight after the signing of a brittle political settlement that hauled the country out of a crippling post election impasse, which left at least 1,000 people dead and half a million others huddled in IDP camps.

Issued on the eve of the reconvening of Parliament and resumption of mediation talks that will thrash out the issue of portfolio balance, Muthaura’s statement amounted to putting the cart before the horse.

Today, MPs will start debating two proposed laws to legalise the envisaged grand coalition government — the National Accord and Reconciliation Bill 2008 and the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2008 — published on Thursday.

The two-page power-sharing agreement, which came after intense international pressure and mediation by former United Nations chief, Dr Kofi Annan, seemed to serve as a contract to pull Kenya back from the brink.

In his statement, Muthaura seemed to imply that even though the Office of the Prime Minister would be created, the President would continue to enjoy unbridled executive powers in a business-as-usual kind of scenario.

He sought to lower the stature of the PM’s office, which he said would come third in the protocol pecking order, and therefore it would be unlikely that the PM would supervise the VP if the latter holds a ministerial position.

The statement, which drew instant response from Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), the key partners in the coalition government with Party of National Unity (PNU), seemed crafted to defend the status quo.

On a day of intense shuttle diplomacy in Nairobi at the height of the mediation talks, US Secretary of State, Ms Condoleezza Rice, had said: "It can’t be an illusion, power-sharing must be real.

To the president, President Kibaki, I will say power sharing means real power sharing and the US as a friend of Kenya expects that power sharing to take place to show that you can make the electoral and constitutional reforms that frankly should have been made several years ago," Rice stated.

She added: "To Mr Odinga, I will be saying that we understand that the election was problematic, the United States has said that, but again power sharing does need to take place."

Last night, Pentagon House insisted that the National Accord reflected the goodwill and positive attitude of President Kibaki and Prime Minister-designate, Mr Raila Odinga.

The Orange party also said the Accord encapsulated what it described as "the genuine desire of Kenyans".

ODM asserted that Kenyans had begun the slow process of healing, reconciliation and rebuilding their shattered lives and "would not accept to be dragged back to the period of mayhem, violence and disruption by retrogressive forces bent on resisting changes".

It roundly attacked as "mischievous and unacceptable" the statement by Muthaura, which was made at a live televised Press conference organised by Government Spokesman, Dr Alfred Mutua, at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre.

"Any statement clarifying, interpreting or explaining the content of the National Accord must be jointly released by the two principals — Kibaki and Raila," ODM’s statement read by former Cabinet minister, Prof Amukowa Anangwe, asserted.

Ironically, Muthaura made the announcement a day after Justice minister, Ms Martha Karua, urged leaders to desist from making public statements that would undermine the power-sharing pact.

"The pact between the Government and ODM is for the benefit of all Kenyans and its success would be viewed as victory for the entire country," the minister, speaking in Nyeri on Sunday after a series of public rallies, said.

Stung by Muthaura’s statement, ODM maintained that the Accord provides for a 50-50 power-sharing formula and that this would be at two levels: The Cabinet and Government, which includes the Civil Service and State corporations.

The statement went on to say that the National Accord provides that the Prime Minister shall have authority to coordinate and supervise execution of the functions and affairs of Government, including those of ministries.

"Any other interpretation of the National Accord undermining, circumventing or delaying its ratification — in both spirit and letter — is mischievous, unacceptable and must be rejected by all Kenyans," the ODM statement added.

The party said the structure of the new coalition government was being worked out and would be announced to the public by the two principals.

In his statement, Muthaura purported to spell out the roles of holders of key Government positions, saying the Vice-President remained the principal assistant of the President and Leader of Government Business in the House.

He said the President would appoint the Vice-President, prime minister, deputy prime ministers and all ministers subject to the terms of the February 28 accord.

"The Vice-President, prime minister, deputy prime ministers and all ministers are directly responsible to the President. The President will continue to chair the Cabinet," Muthaura added.

And Mbooni MP, Mr Mutula Kilonzo, a member of the team that drafted the Accord, told The Standard last night that the structure announced by Muthaura gave the correct administrative perspective.

"He has just given the pyramid structure of the expected government," said Mutula, adding that Government structures were well enumerated in the constitutional amendment Bill signed by the Justice minister and the Attorney-General, Mr Amos Wako.

But lawyers aligned to ODM, who spoke on condition of anonymity, read mischief in Muthaura’s announcement and dismissed it as "too little too late in a clear attempt to water down the power-sharing deal".

Their argument is that President Kibaki, alongside key ministers who sat in the mediation talks, had appended their signatures on the deal and an official at a lower pecking order cannot purport to speak on behalf of the Government.

"If the Bills go through, then the PM’s office will have its powers clearly defined. It will be the first ministry whose powers shall be clearly stated under the Constitution," a lawyer said, adding that constitutional Bills are passed or rejected in their entirety and cannot be amended.

The lawyer added: "Kenyans will watch keenly how ministers vote and should they oppose it, then it means Kibaki will have lost authority and control over his own ministers.

"We must note that these are Government-published and sponsored Bills. One is by the Attorney-General, Mr Amos Wako, and another by Justice minister, Karua. Ministers cannot subvert Bills the Government has tabled," he added.

Cotu Secretary-General, Mr Francis Atwoli, said the Bills should be supported by all MPs and warned: "Any move to block the Bills would be suicidal and would reverse the gains made on peace deal."

Although ODM has not laid stake on any Cabinet positions, there are indications that the party will soon put on the table its preferences in the 50-50 power-sharing agreement as contained in the National Accord.

On its part, PNU is expected to put up a fight to retain the high-profile ministerial positions it is already holding.

Meanwhile, ODM and PNU started harmonising their manifestos for implementation under the new coalition Government. Internal Security minister, Prof George Saitoti, and ODM Secretary-General, Prof Anyang’ Nyongo’, co-chaired yesterday’s meeting, where the issues were discussed.