Defiant Jubilee MPs leave President in big dilemma
The President is faced with stark options that include conceding and nominating a new nominee – and effectively opening a floodgate of demands by MPs in the future – or calling their bluff and inviting a possible stalemate with a House he needs.
The third option would be to ride out the rejection and hope to return to the matter later when the political heat generated by MPs’ demands for regular consultations have died down before making his next move.
In any event, the President is in an awkward position: Monica Juma, the rejected nominee, is the Interior Principal Secretary, where there is a nominee pending vetting, Maj Gen (Rtd) Gordon Kihalangwa.
State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu on Saturday remained guarded about the options the President had but said government operations would not be affected by the state of affairs.
“The President has not applied his mind (to what option to take) but the Cabinet office is a substantive office and the work of the Cabinet has not been interrupted. We are about building institutions and not individuals,” Mr Esipisu said.
He was also guarded about his response to the unprecedented defiance demonstrated by Jubilee MPs in their rejection of Ms Juma and their failed efforts to overturn the President’s position on retirement benefits for former senior State officials.
“In both cases, Parliament made its decision. It remains a part of our democracy,” Mr Esipisu said.
Sources in the Office of the President say MPs bitterly fell out with Ms Juma over the handling of a confidential slush fund run by the government of the day to attend to national emergencies.
“The taps have been tapped off because the system has in the past been abused to mischievously siphon funds from that office. It was a necessary undertaking to bring order to the place. Remember that the President had openly complained that there were thieves in his office. Those thieves who have been dealt with, and a number of former officials and businessmen who used to benefit from an illicit affair, are not happy,” said OP sources familiar with the intrigues around Dr Juma.
The sources say that MPs had made it routine to visit OP to collect cash ostensibly for “peace missions and to represent the President in this or that other place.” These, sources say, were often red herrings to siphon off money for personal use.
But outspoken Kieni MP Kanini Kega (TNA) told the Sunday Nation that MPs who would visit the office were not doing so “for personal favours” and that Ms Juma had erred by writing directly to Parliament.
“This was an arm of government writing to another. If it was the Judiciary, an individual judge cannot write to Parliament. The person who is supposed to write to Parliament is the Head of Public Service, working on behalf of the President. It was a total breach of protocol,” said Mr Kega.
He said that the Interior office is an important link between MPs, as the people’s representatives, and the presidency.
He added that Ms Juma had personally turned him down on one occasion; “I called when my people were killed in Garissa. Two sisters had a huge bill at Chiromo mortuary, Nairobi, and I’m the one who paid for it, plus the transport.”
“If you have a PS or a minister who is not listening to MPs, then it’s not right. We do not go to their offices for personal favours. It’s very unfair for anyone to say, ‘don’t come to this office’. She should be told that it was wrong to write on a policy statement,” said Mr Kega.
The confidential funds at the centre of the row are entrusted to a few senior government officials, especially those in the security docket. A senior official who has worked with previous PSs said the cash is replenished by the Treasury “every now and then,” as circumstances demand.
Other security officials with such a fund include the Inspector General of National Police, the deputies in charge of Kenya Police and Administration Police Services as well as the Director of Criminal Investigations.
In the current scenario, the Interior PS controls a larger share, compared with other security officials. The expenditure is virtually immune from the hawk-eyed auditor-general when it comes to accounting and is largely subject to the authority of the National Security Advisory Committee and the National Security Council.
The confidential fund is topped up directly by the Treasury without the usual bureaucracy.
The official explained that such confidential funds are not unique to the Kenya government.
In February this year, a delegation of senior officials from Harambee House, the seat of the Interior ministry, visited the United States with the aim of learning from their counterparts in America how they operate confidential security funds.
The money is also used to pay for services whose value cannot be quantified and receipted, like intelligence gathering outside the formal framework of the National Intelligence Service.
The money is also used to “facilitate” politicians when the Executive requests their assistance in matters that do not necessarily fall under their docket. It is the handling of these monies that appears to be stoking a rebellion in the coalition.
At his last meeting with Jubilee coalition MPs in Naivasha late January, the President came face to face with the realities of the discomfort that they face.
This week, Igembe North MP Mithika Linturi was among four Jubilee MPs who criticised the President’s memorandum on the Bill that seeks to provide for the paying of a pension to the President’s closest competitor at the last election, Mr Raila Odinga.
Significantly, even Mr Johnson Sakaja, chairman of the President’s The National Alliance, and who was nominated to the House by his hand, was against the amendment. Jubilee hawk and Mukurweini MP Kabando wa Kabando was among 40 MPs allied to President Kenyatta who was unequivocal in his criticism of the President’s decision on Mr Odinga’s pension.
Mr Kega this week told Sunday Nation that Jubilee MPs had often agreed with the President that they would hold regular meetings for housekeeping and to iron out issues, but this does not happen “until there is a crisis.”
“In the other system, it was seamless because ministers were MPs. Right now we do not have a clear communication system. MPs should meet with the Executive at least once a month so that we know what is happening and to articulate these issues to the public. It should be a symbiotic relationship,” said Mr Kega.
“Whenever we go, we agree and even form groups. There could be someone who is deliberately sabotaging those meetings.”
Mr Sakaja said: “I don’t think there’s disquiet. What we are having are normal problems. In a group, there are always some issues. Even Cord has similar issues. In fact the President is gaining a lot of ground even in areas outside the Jubilee stronghold. The problems in Jubilee are being exaggerated, but the good thing is that our issues come with a positive attitude of building.”
“We want members to formally raise issues. We are confident we are working well as leaders of TNA and URP and that the government is performing well,” he said.
On claims by Mt Kenya leaders that URP had short-changed TNA in appointments to ministries and parastatals that control multi-billion-shilling ministries, Mr Sakaja said: “This is not a nusu mkate (half a loaf) government. All ministers are Jubilee ministers, and that is why we are working towards joining one party (Jubilee Alliance Party).”
Ol Jororok MP JM Waiganjo said all was not well in the coalition, but efforts were being made to ensure the Opposition does not benefit from the unease.
The TNA MP, who sits in the powerful parliamentary committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, said: “We are getting together as a parliamentary group to soberly look at the issues so as to crystallise them in a petition to be handed to the President.”
Although President Kenyatta has “a lot” of friends, Mr Waiganjo said “his link with MPs is not a true representative of MPs’ feelings… We are 100 per cent behind him but we are worried our feelings do not get the attention of the President. For instance, when we rejected Monica Juma, we relied on a report of a committee headed by a Jubilee MP. It is not true that we were expecting to be bribed,” Mr Waiganjo said.
CKPG patron Kiraitu Murungi has cried foul over the replacement of people from the Mt Kenya region in President Kenyatta’s government.