Can Uhuru contain dissenting voices within Jubilee coalition?
Growing political restlessness displayed by a few Rift Valley MPs has forced the Jubilee government into a quick-fix mode, with President Kenyatta expected to tour the North and Southern Rift Valley from Monday.
Sunday Nation has established that among other emerging political differences, there are vicious government tender wars pitting parties from both sides of the coalition who want to control billions of shillings in business deals.
Organisers of the President’s meeting in Eldoret Monday and Kericho and Bomet on Tuesday told Sunday Nation the Head of State is visiting to thank the people for their overwhelming support in the last General Election.
Some Rift Valley MPs and governors have openly expressed displeasure with the Jubilee government and complained publicly over frustrations from some of its top officials.
“This visit is not impromptu. It is something we organised long ago, and were only waiting for the President to clear his diary,” said Kericho Senator Charles Keter.
Mr Keter, who is among the coordinators of the tour, mobilised MPs to an impromptu leaders’ meeting with Deputy President William Ruto on Tuesday to discuss the visit.
About 50 United Republican Party (URP) MPs from the region’s six counties of Bomet, Kericho, Uasin Gishu, Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet and Nandi attended the meeting at Mr Ruto’s office on Harambee Avenue.
Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, Nominated Senator Zipporah Kitony and Kapenguria MP Samuel Moroto — all of Kanu — were also in attendance.
The MPs had hoped recent concerns raised by some of their discontented colleagues would be discussed, but when Aldai MP Cornelly Serem tried to introduce the agenda, he was stopped by the Deputy President. According to those present, Mr Ruto is said to have dismissed the matter as a sideshow distracting them from discussing the venues of the President’s meeting.
Monday’s visit by the President is said to be a prescription suggested by his advisers to contain the emerging dissent and forestall a situation similar to the one that befell former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who was deserted and humiliated by voters in the region.
History could also be repeating itself as the restlessness in the Jubilee coalition takes the same trajectory as in 2003 when relations between President Kibaki’s NAK and Mr Odinga’s LDP over the reneging on the former’s part of a pre-election pact.
Then as now, grumbling began with Mr Odinga’s lieutenants after President Kibaki announced his Cabinet. And even though Mr Odinga initially outwardly dismissed the restlessness, rifts developed in the Narc administration, leading to separation just three years after elections, ahead of the 2005 referendum on the proposed constitution.
But current National Assembly majority leader Aden Duale says that, unlike 2003, only one MP is shouting himself hoarse.
“In 2003, it was Raila Odinga and his lieutenants who went to the rooftops to say he had been short-changed, but I can assure you that there is no grumbling right now. It is (Nandi Hills MP Alfred) Keter who is making noise, when he should be preparing for his maiden speech in Parliament,” Mr Duale said, dismissing the legislator.
Though the differences in Jubilee have been precipitated by impatience over the sharing of key positions in government, investigations into the matter also revealed deep disagreements on procurement.
Divergent views over lucrative tenders and the slow implementation of a 50-50 power-sharing agreement as filed at the Registrar of Political Parties have been blamed for rising tension in the coalition.
Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter has been the most vocal in criticising the coalition for what he terms an attempt to use the URP wing for selfish gains while the benefits are contained within the President’s TNA side of the government.
“I am very worried about my friend and party leader William Ruto. It is clear that these people want to use him, but some of us can see that from afar, and we will not allow it,” Mr Keter said.
He argued that the government has chosen Mr Ruto as the bearer of some pieces of discouraging news to the public because they want him to look bad.
“We have seen him being sent to go and talk about retrenchment in the civil service, in the same fashion and style that former Prime Minister Raila Odinga was sent to go and evict people from the Mau Forest. The President himself is yet to make a statement on this. Just last week, we saw the Public Service Commission (PSC) chairperson contradict the very message they sent the VP to deliver. He needs to be very careful,” Mr Keter said.
On the planned presidential visit, Mr Keter said that thanking the Kalenjin community eight months after the elections looks very awkward indeed.
“The President and his Deputy have visited other regions and launched various projects. But when it comes to Rift Valley, it has to be tied to politics. We want them to come and launch road projects, factories, things like those. We know his (Mr Kenyatta’s) visit is a political tour,” Mr Keter said.
He maintained he will not be silenced about the issues he has raised until the President starts acting on them. “Other than Cabinet positions, important positions have been created and dished out to individuals whose leaning towards TNA is obvious,” he charged.
On tenders, Mr Keter claimed that there was a “huge appetite by some unscrupulous businessmen around the President to engage in deals that could erupt and destroy the government in future.”
“This recently launched standard gauge railway line construction is a scandal-in-waiting. Kenyans will lose money in the project and everybody in government knows it,” the MP said.
BRIBED TO ATTEND LAUNCH
He also claimed that some unnamed MPs were paid $3,000 (Sh261,000) each to attend the launch of the project in Mombasa to legitimise it despite the questions raised.
“MPs are supposed to play oversight roles; why are they hobnobbing with vendors and suppliers outside of their oversight responsibilities?”
An official at the DP’s office, however, claimed that foreigners had tried to use influential parliamentarians to influence the railway tender by trying to draw Mr Ruto’s office into it, but the moves were resisted.
“There are some MPs who were being used by rival vendors to the project. They came to the DP’s office but were kicked out,” said the official.
It was then that Mr Ruto’s office wrote to the Attorney-General questioning the procurement process and attempted to have the project stopped. But the DP was among the dignitaries at the launch in Mombasa.
Mr Duale, nevertheless, denied claims that MPs were paid. “If that is true, then it is indeed serious and Parliament will investigate and deal with it. As we speak, the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Parliamentary Investments Committee (PIC) are looking into the tender process. They will submit their reports by January 10.
“If the bribery claims are true, we will call in the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Committee. What is more, Parliament has got its own powers and mechanism to take action. But until then, those are mere rumours,” Mr Duale said.
“What I’m saying is I am not aware that MPs were paid to attend the launch of the standard gauge railway,” Duale said.
According to the majority leader, URP remains part of the Jubilee Coalition, and its members have “overwhelming confidence in the way the President and the Deputy President are governing the country”, which, he said, is up to the letter and spirit of the Coalition agreement.
“Those making noise about the tenders should know that they (tenders) are competitively and transparently won. There are no tenders called URP or TNA,” he said.
Mr Duale shares similar views with his Senate majority counterpart Prof Kithure Kindiki, also the Tharaka Nithi Senator. According to Mr Kindiki, there is no problem within Jubilee “except for a lone voice”. “There is no problem unless you (media) want to manufacture one. It is media that is creating the perception,” he said.
There is also an underground battle over the laptop tender projects where powerful business magnates are using their closeness to the President’s and Deputy President’s offices in an attempt to outwit each other as they play middleman for top foreign companies eyeing the Sh9 billion tender.
That Mr Kenyatta is keen to deal with any kind of discontent inside his government for his own smooth stay in power is an open secret.
Early this week at a book launch by former minister for Agriculture Maina Wanjigi at the Serena Hotel, the Head of State confronted combative city lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi, who was among the guests.
“Rafiki yangu, vita ni ya nini? Tutafutane tuongee (My friend, what are we fighting about? We should meet and talk),” Mr Kenyatta told him.
The lawyer is among six Judicial Service Commission members whom the President attempted to send home.
A prominent city lawyer close to the President, who also attended the meeting, was later tasked to organise a meeting between the two.
Last week, Ahmednasir criticised the President and his style of leadership in his weekly column titled “Doubts as to what the true Uhuru stands for” in the Sunday Nation (December 8, 2013), prompting Mr Kenyatta’s reaction. The meeting was to take place after the President returned from South Africa where he joined other world leaders at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela.