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Friday, March 14, 2008

Who is Muthaura to meddle in Kenya’s political matters?

By Jerry Okungu

Monday afternoon this week came as a shock to many Kenyans. Francis Muthaura, the head of the Civil Service had a new government structure that he thought Kenyans should know about.

Instead of calling a press conference in his Harambee House, he thought it necessary to use the Government Spokesman’s office at Kenyatta International Conference Centre. The theme of his rare press briefing had to do with the recently signed accord between President Mwai Kibaki and Opposition leader Raila Odinga on behalf of the PNU and ODM respectively.

In his brief, Muthaura took it upon himself to interpret to Kenyans the meaning and spirit of the accord even though the entire document had been published in its entirety in the leading newspapers and had been the subject of intensive expert debates in the local media.

In so doing, Muthaura found it necessary to tell Kenyans that in the accord, the President would still be the Head of State and Government just like before. He would still appoint his Vice President who would be senior in ranking to the Prime Minister.

The Vice President would still remain the Head of Government Business in Parliament and that the Prime Minister and two deputies would all be appointed by the President and each one of them would be answerable to the President directly.

But the real killer was when Muthaura categorically stated that the accord did not include the Civil Service, diplomatic missions and heads of parastals. They would not be affected by the accord!

Excerpts from the agreement duly signed by President Kibaki, Raila Odinga, Kofi Annan and President Jakaya Kikwete in paragraph three of the preamble state: “With this agreement, we are stepping forward together, as political leaders, to overcome the current crisis and to set the country on a new path. As partners in a coalition government, we commit ourselves to work together in good faith as true partners, through constant consultation and willingness to compromise.”

This commitment to work together in good faith was the spirit that led Kibaki to append his signature to the now all-important document. They stepped forward together as political leaders to overcome Kenya’s political crisis! So where did Muthaura, a civil servant, get the authority to meddle in a purely political undertaking whose process had not even been concluded?

Why did he find it urgent to release the new government structure on the eve of the first debate in Parliament that was to ratify the accord? Paragraph four of the preamble continues: “This agreement is designed to create an environment conducive to such a partnership and to build mutual trust and confidence. It seeks to enable Kenyan political leaders to look beyond partisan considerations.”

The fury with which the ODM members responded to Muthaura was telling. Muthaura’s action had thrown the political class a step back to the pre-accord period just 10 days before. Muthaura thinks and truly believes that the accord did not include the civil service, paratatal chiefs and Kenya’s ambassadors. Yet bullet point six of the key points of the agreement states: “The composition of the coalition government will at all times take into account the principle of portfolio balance and will reflect their relative parliamentary strength”.

If this is what is in the accord, where did the Ambassador get his authority to exclude the public service from the power-sharing accord? What was apparent in this unfortunate statement was the impact it could have on the entire Kenyan population that still suffered from the post- election wounds. What if some communities understood Muthaura’s utterances to mean that the government was beginning to backtrack on the accord then start another round of violence? What if some members of Parliament could interpret Muthaura’s statement as an affront to Parliament by preempting published bills due for debate?

However, the biggest worry for many Kenyans was that Muthaura was not acting alone. Some thought he was fronting for some hardliners in the PNU who felt that their current positions were threatened by the accord. If one read what Martha Karua said in Central Province over the weekend about the current ministers, one got the feeling that the PNU would rather not share genuine power according to the accord but leave the ODM with lackluster ministries while they continued to control strategic and critical portfolios of government.

The question to ask is; will the ODM brigade accept it? I don’t think so. Somebody had better tell the PNU hardliners the same. Kenya has changed forever!

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