News 2008


Is this about 'jobs for the boys' or national healing?


11. March 2008

I AM AFRAID THOSE FEARS expressed in this column a month ago – more than two weeks before that climactic moment when President Kibaki and Mr Raila Odinga signed their agreement on the steps of Harambee House – are being borne out.

My point then was that discussion on a new governance structure should not be about sharing power – it should not be about sharing the spoils, ‘‘jobs for the boys’’, or ‘‘eating together’’; it should be about sharing responsibility.

There is a world of difference between sharing power and sharing responsibility. The former is all about a small clique agreeing to share the spoils by eating together.

The latter is about each side in the political divide accepting responsibility for the post-election quake that shook Kenya, and taking up jointly the responsibility of ensuring that this country never goes down that path again.

We have already agreed to create the position of prime minister to be taken by the party commanding a majority in Parliament, in reality a position for Mr Odinga. We have also agreed on two deputy prime ministers, one from each side.

But now we are hearing all this talk about expansion of the Cabinet to grotesque proportions just so that there can be a slot for every man and his dog.

We are hearing about ODM demanding, not just its equitable share of ministerial flags and dockets, but also the opportunity to appoint its own permanent secretaries, provincial commissioners, district commissioners, State corporation bosses and all kinds of other officials in the public service.

President Kibaki and Premier-Designate Raila Odinga must come together and call a halt to all this nonsense.

If this is to be a Government mandated specifically to drive reform, then it must itself be a reformist administration in word and deed. One of the prerequisites must be a lean and effective Cabinet and a strictly apolitical public service.

There is nothing that nearly 40 ministers and twice that number of assistant ministers can do that a much smaller Cabinet cannot do.

A maximum of 18 Cabinet positions and two assistant ministers in each ministry should more than suffice.

And we certainly don’t need a public service led by fellows whose only qualifications are that they are relatives, cronies, friends and political flunkies of the so-called principals.

If President Kibaki and Mr Odinga are really leaders who care more about fixing this country than they care about eating together, then they must firmly lay down the law on this.

The dangers of an arrangement based solely on sharing power and the perks of high office underlines why there is still need for an effective opposition to keep a watch on things.

THERE HAVE BEEN SUGGESTIONS that the media and civil society play the role of the opposition, but there must also be a group in Parliament playing its role.

Backbenchers could play a critical role if they all recognise that their job is to keep the Government on its toes and not to be mere cheerleaders.

But in a situation where everyone is angling for some appointment, it might be more worthwhile if there was an organised opposition in Parliament.

And this is where the minor parties come in. Party of Independent Candidates (PICK) MP for Kilome, John Harun Mwau, has already staked his claim to be Leader of the Official Opposition.

But he diluted his pitch by making it at the same time he was attending a government Parliamentary Group meeting.

If he is serious, he should be busy organising all the MPs not drawn from either of the two major coalition partners in an attempt to assemble a strong parliamentary opposition.

The big two parties, now in coalition, and their main affiliates, account for some 170 elected MPs. That is a commanding majority, especially when their 12 nominated MPs are added to the list.

But there are a host of small parties with between one and five MPs each which, together, provide 35 Members.

Most of them are already allied to one or the other of the bigger players, but individually, they lack the clout to force themselves into the inner sanctums and thus are unlikely to win any major Cabinet positions or to win their jobless clansmen judicial postings or as chief executives of plum parastatals.

That is why they should come out and make their presence felt as a distinct force in Parliament, acting as the people’s watchdog rather than mere lapdogs for the amusement of those wielding power in the Kibaki-Raila power arrangement.

Safina, Narc, Narc Kenya, Kanu, Ford People, DP, New Ford Kenya, Sisi kwa Sisi, PICK, KENDA, KADDU, Chama cha Uzalendo and others have the numbers to make an impact as the opposition voice in Parliament.

Between them, they have not just the numbers, but also the forceful, robust, intelligent and maybe fearless and independent MPs that can help ensure the coalition Government remembers it has not been given the mandate to take Kenya back to a one-party state.

Some of them may not be your favourites, but the likes of Harun Mwau, Kabando wa Kabando, Richard Onyonka, Cyrus Jirongo, Gitobu Imanyara, Wavinya Ndeti and others could play far more important roles in the 10th Parliament than merely angling for appointment to Government.