Ruto biggest loser as allies shown door
Deputy President William Ruto’s men were the first major casualties in the anti-corruption purge that could test the unity of the Jubilee coalition and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s stamina in the war against graft.
Allies of Mr Ruto who were suspended include Cabinet secretaries Felix Koskei (Agriculture), Davis Chirchir (Energy), and Kazungu Kambi (Labour) and his Chief of Staff, Marianne Kitany.
Mr Chirchir, a former electoral commission official, is a strong Ruto supporter and was the coalition’s chief agent at the national tallying centre during the March 2013 elections. His experience with management of elections and IT skills came in handy in the poll after which he was rewarded with a cabinet slot.
The Cabinet seats were shared between the President’s TNA side and Mr Ruto’s URP party with Mr Chirchir, Mr Koskei, and Mr Kambi coming from the Deputy President’s wing of the ruling coalition.
Mr Kambi, the Labour Secretary, was Mr Ruto’s top campaigner at the Coast.
And by suspending Ms Kitany, it was clear that the President had taken the anti-corruption war right into Mr Ruto’s office.
The Chief of Staff is a particularly critical position.
Ms Kitany plans and directs all administrative and operational activities in Mr Ruto’s office and serves as a link between the office and other sections of the public service.
Other Ruto allies shown the door include Patrick Osero, chairman of the Agricultural Finance Corporation, Richard Langat, the NSSF Managing Trustee, and Charles Tanui, the Kenya Pipeline Company chief executive.
Mr Osero in January claimed the ownership of the Weston Hotel in Lang’ata which was linked to the grabbing of a primary school playground.
Kuresoi South MP Zakayo Cheruiyot said Ruto is to blame for URP’s loss.
“URP lost very badly in the bargain. This is largely because it is a one-man-show. In the end, Ruto will blame himself for this,” he said.
He blamed the unease in URP on a clique around the Deputy President that he claimed cannot stand up to him and tell him things are headed in the wrong direction.
“I am not saying he should consult me, but come to think of it, what good can come from the sky team? I hope he is beginning to read the signs,” he said.
‘Sky team’ refers to a group of senior politicians known to have the DP’s ear.
Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter said the DP’s close associates had been edged out.
“They have finished William. Look at those being asked to step aside; they are his key ministers. Felix (Agriculture Secretary Koskei), who has been effective in his work and also instrumental in organising bonuses to tea farmers, has been pushed out, and more will follow,” he said.
Mr Keter, who confirmed to the Sunday Nation that his name is in the document, dismissed the step taken by the President as meant to besmirch people’s names. He was captured on tape intimidating officials at the Gilgil weighbridge in January and using abusive language. He claimed he was fighting corruption.
On Saturday he said: “I am on record saying corruption should be declared a national disaster. How does it happen again that I am in that list? For goodness sake, I have been a corruption whistleblower.”
Another MP from the Rift Valley said the President appears to be on the war path against them, something he said could force them to retaliate. Sunday Nation also established that Mr Ruto spent about four hours at State House in last-minute consultations before the President addressed the nation.
Two powerful bureaucrats, Kibaki era remnants, Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Kimemia and Defence Principal Secretary Mutea Iringo, were also suspended. Others shown the door included Roads Cabinet Secretary Michael Kamau and his Principal Secretary Nduva Muli as well as Kenya Airports Authority MD Lucy Mbugua.
Mr Ruto has thrown his weight behind the President’s directive for government officials associated with corruption to carry their own crosses.
“We have made a decision as government. Those involved in corruption must face the full force of the law,” Mr Ruto said on Friday.
“As leaders, we have a duty and a responsibility to make sure that public resources entrusted in our care and management are used for the benefit of the people of Kenya,” Mr Ruto added.
But William Korir, a Kalenjin elder and lecturer at Egerton University, and Segemik Parish priest Fr Ambrose Kimutai on Saturday warned that the purge could strain relations amongst key stakeholders in the coalition.
According to Mr Korir, the suspension should serve as a warning for Mr Ruto.
“If a lot of people surrounding you are removed in a purge against corruption, it almost shows that you are no longer useful and may have to go in future. The removal of the people that were part of a coalition deal almost makes the DP lose his voice in 2017,” Mr Korir said.
However, former Cabinet minister Franklin Bett on Saturday said that by appearing not to shield his allies, Mr Ruto had scored big and sent a message that he supports the war against corruption and that there were no sacred cows.
“The move by Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto is the most patriotic in recent times. That the two would let their closest friends be investigated shows that they are ready to fight the monster of corruption,” Mr Bett, who last month defected from the Opposition Cord coalition to Jubilee, said.
Mr Bett downplayed suggestions that the crackdown could hurt Mr Ruto’s influence in the Rift Valley and divide the ruling alliance.
“Those saying that by removing people alleged to have engaged in corruption, the DP was killing his political career, are simply enemies of the fight against graft,” he told the Sunday Nation.
“The President only needs to ensure that there is no interference from any quarters and that these cases reach their meaningful conclusion and those cleared are returned to work immediately.”
But Fr Kimutai suggested that for the stability of the coalition, those state officials removed must be replaced by individuals from the region.
“Let us not throw the baby with the bath water. With the political ground being shaky in the Rift Valley, the people removed from those positions must be replaced from others from the Rift Valley,” Father Kimutai said.
The priest called for a case-by-case study and prosecution instead of a general condemnation.
“The allegations are of a differing magnitude and they should be treated as such. This blanket condemnation is not fair for natural justice,” he said.
Other commentators on Saturday described President Kenyatta’s call for officials mentioned in corruption — including governors — to quit as a double-edged sword.
While the President’s supporters hailed the call as bold and decisive, his critics have been quick to call it a public relations exercise. They see President Kenyatta’s as a knee-jerk reaction choreographed to deflate public anger over the rising number of mega scandals under the Jubilee administration.
They draw parallels to similar attempts during President Kibaki’s tenure when senior ministers such as Kiraitu Murungi, David Mwiraria and George Saitoti were asked to “step aside” only to be given back their seats a few months later after being “cleared” by investigators.
The overriding theory is that while the blanket call for government officials may help send a strong signal about the President’s commitment to fight corruption, it could also backfire by putting him on a collision course with elected leaders such as governors who he cannot sack.
There are also questions about the independence of the anti-corruption commission which submitted the names to State House, the President’s moral authority to suspend government officials having resisted similar calls against him in the past, and the fact the his deputy continues to execute his mandate despite fighting crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court.
Governors have declared that they will not heed the call to quit, saying the President had no authority to ask them to step aside.
Council of Governors (CoG) chairman Isaac Ruto has dismissed the call, saying the President was only making a political statement that has nothing to do with the fight against corruption.
He challenged Deputy President Ruto to lead the way by vacating office due to his ongoing case at the International Criminal Court if, indeed, the government was serious about tackling the vice.
He said President Kenyatta had no authority to order elected leaders to leave office even as State House maintained an election does not confer on governors a licence for impunity.