Uhuru’s Catch-22 over Cabinet Secretary

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) with Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke when he invited him to State House, Nairobi. President Kenyatta appears to be shrugging off mounting pressure to suspend Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru over fresh reports of corruption in her docket. PHOTO | PSCU

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President Uhuru Kenyatta appears to be shrugging off mounting pressure to suspend Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru over fresh reports of corruption in her docket, a decision informed by the likely political repercussions of balking to such calls.

The Sunday Nation established that whereas the Head of State and his deputy William Ruto had earlier agreed on immediately effecting a Cabinet reshuffle to placate public anger, a Friday State House meeting put things on the ice — delaying any such decision.

This was informed by a school of thought that suspending Ms Waiguru at the moment would embolden Opposition chief Raila Odinga and his Cord brigade, who have been calling for her firing in the past few months.

Talk was rife in government circles on Thursday that President Kenyatta would act decisively on returning from the swearing-in ceremony of the new Tanzanian President John Magufuli to save the government’s image, with sources saying that even the National Intelligence Service had recommended a “big announcement” to deflect public attention.

“After further consultations, I can say that chances of her losing the Cabinet slot for now are 50-50,” a source close to the presidency told the Sunday Nation Saturday.

Mr Odinga claims that Ms Waiguru’s name was deleted from a corruption dossier containing names of civil servants handed to Mr Kenyatta by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission in March.

Another leading Jubilee figure said the feeling that sacking Ms Waiguru would have profound repercussions for the President, weakening his stand on the fight on graft as it would be tantamount to an indirect admission that he has been shielding her, as the Opposition claims.

It would also allow the Opposition to claim victory and target another Cabinet Secretary “to keep Jubilee constantly fighting fires” ahead of the 2017 elections.

NO RESPONSE
State House was mute about the Friday meeting but a release by Mr Kenyatta’s communication team said the focus of the meeting was on matters like the establishment of the African Export Import Bank and opening of a branch office in Kenya to serve the East Africa region.

Of course, a matter as sensitive as this would rarely attract a comment from State House.

State House Spokesman Manoah Esipisu declined to speak on the subject.

But he is on record defending Ms Waiguru, arguing that Mr Kenyatta cannot kick out a minister based on media reports.

The meeting also agreed on a stop-gap measure to silence Jubilee MPs who have uncharacteristically piled pressure on Mr Kenyatta in the past few days to dismiss the minister.

The plan, we gathered, is to have the National Assembly Majority leader Aden Duale and his Senate counterpart Kithure Kindiki reach out to the MPs and make it clear to them that the President has not been amused by their “48-hour ultimatum” to him.

“No one can give the President an ultimatum. He is the President,” Mr Duale said when asked about the push to whip Jubilee MPs to “order”.

To ensure the clamour fizzles out, another contingent of officials from the Office of the President will give Mr Duale and Mr Kindiki reinforcement to stop further “embarrassment”.

Mr Kenyatta would want to effect changes in the Cabinet on his own terms, not on the prompting of those in his party.

Igembe South MP Mithika Linturi says it is no longer about if the President will act but when.

He says the ruling coalition is almost irreparably divided, with the majority feeling the CS is now a liability to Jubilee.

“The mood is so bad, I doubt she will survive. The President set a precedent by sacking Lenku (former Interior minister Joseph ole Lenku) and Mr Kimaiyo (retired Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo) because of inefficiency.

“He set another precedent when he asked other Cabinet secretaries to step aside because of graft allegations in their ministries. I believe what is coming out of the Devolution ministries are not just allegations but confirmed cases of loss of funds. For this, the buck stops with him; he must crack the whip or else we will conclude that he is condoning corruption,” he said.

OPPOSITION SYMPATHISERS
Oljororok MP John Waiganjo (TNA) agrees with Mr Linturi. “At this rate, the President should dissolve his Cabinet and realign it with the Jubilee vision since most of the CSs have been mentioned in graft.”

As this happens, it has also emerged that Jubilee is planning to target civil servants perceived as being sympathetic to the Opposition, who could be leaking information on graft in government to both Cord and the media, as part of a scheme to save the embattled minister.

Devolution Principal Secretary Peter Mangiti and Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo are some of those marked, once what appears to be a spiteful campaign is executed.

When she appeared before the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday, Ms Waiguru appeared inclined to throw junior staff in the ministry under the bus, saying she did not approve any of the outrageous expenditures that saw a TV set bought at Sh1.7 million, a piano at Sh235,500 and condom dispensers procured at Sh25,000 each, among other items.

“What is shocking is the deliberate refusal to recognise my role as CS and that of officers who are either accounting officers or AIE (authorised to incur expense) holders. I do not procure. I do not purchase anything for the ministry. I do not sign or negotiate contracts,” she said, sentiments that have thrust Mr Mangiti into the centre of what promises to be the biggest scandal to rock Jubilee.

The line, which has already been adopted by the larger Jubilee fraternity, is to consistently say that contrary to other five suspended CSs, Ms Waiguru is the one who blew the whistle on corruption in her ministry and it would be fair to punish her for raising the alarm.

With the new twist, one man who must be very happy is Mr Kiplimo Rugut, who was unceremoniously hounded from the helm of the National Youth Service last year.

RENEWED PUSH
While Mr Kenyatta was in Tanzania, two press statements were hurriedly drafted by members of the ruling coalition — one called for the sacking of Ms Waiguru; and the other urged her to stay put.

The drafters of the first one disowned it after getting reports that Sate House was not amused by it, only to change their position later in the day and openly endorse it.

The second one was shelved after its architect, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, failed to rally enough support.

MPs Wanjiku Muhia (Nyandarua Women’s Representative), Kigo Njenga (Gatundu North), Alois Lentoimaga (Samburu North), Humphrey Njuguna (Gatanga), Kanini Kega (Kieni), Kimani Ichungwa (Kikuyu) and Kabando wa Kabando (Mukurweini) endorsed the statement demanding the minister’s dismissal.

They see the CS as political baggage and fear her continued presence at Harambee House offices could jeopardise Mr Kenyatta’s re-election bid in 2017.

A meeting between the MPs and Ms Waiguru at Panafric Hotel on Wednesday ended in disarray after a number of MPs declined to stand by her.

The evening meeting was meant to have the CS explain herself to the Jubilee MPs and rally them behind her.

The renewed push has served to embolden Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter, who is seeking to have the National Assembly impeach the powerful CS.

More MPs from the government side have now signed to support the move, offering the lawmaker a lifeline after Mr Ruto told his URP MPs to withdraw their signatures from the bid two weeks ago, effectively denying Mr Keter the minimum required number of 88 to push the Motion through. Mr Keter says he has surpassed the 130 signature mark so far.

Mr Keter’s initiative has been hit by bribery claims, with reports that some MPs pocketed as much as Sh1 million each to withdraw their signatures.

Observers will be waiting to see whether Mr Kenyatta will eventually give in to the pressure, particularly from his own backyard. But many are agreed that the issue is generating a lot of negative energy in government.

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