8 April 2008

Kenya: Leaders Engage in New Blame Game

Nairobi — President Kibaki and Prime Minister-Designate, Mr Raila Odinga, stopped talking to each other and resorted to letters, emissaries, delegations and TV cameras, pushing the country to another brink Monday night.

ODM accused PNU of engaging in mind games on a matter of immense public importance.

But PNU insisted the blame for the delay in naming a new Cabinet lay with ODM. It also charged that ODM did not want to share power, but to take over power.

PNU also went to great length to remind ODM that in spite of the recently signed National Accord and Reconciliation Act, executive power still lay with the President. On its part and on another day of dampened expectations, ODM added a raft of new terms of engagement with PNU, making the much-awaited coalition Cabinet a mirage for the time being.

The Orange party now wants Kibaki to dissolve his 17-member half Cabinet. They also walked back on the bloated 40-member Cabinet deal and now insist on 34.

ODM says the issues must be resolved in the course of its consultations with President Kibaki.

Terse, strongly worded letters again replaced one-on-one engagements between Kibaki and Raila on a day of blame games and heightened tensions.

And even though the two principals appeared diplomatic, both in their demeanour and in the statements on TV, they could as well be rapidly drifting apart.

The use of emissaries and delegations - which started towards the end of last week, but intensified on Monday - only helped confirm suspicion that an iron curtain could be coming down between the two.

The Standard Monday night reliably learnt that Internal Security minister, Prof George Saitoti, visited US Ambassador, Mr Michael Ranneberger, at his residence to brief him on the negotiations. Saitoti is said to have told Ranneberger that PNU was willing to cede at least three of the ministries in dispute.

The signs of an impasse were all there. By their actions, both sides pulled back the clock many days on progress made that would have resulted in the naming of the historic Cabinet.

President Kibaki walked into his Harambee House Office at 4pm, but Raila did not join him as widely reported.

Instead, the ODM leader sent party MPs, Mr Musalia Mudavadi, Mr William Ruto, Mrs Charity Ngilu, Mr Najib Balala, Mr William Ruto, Mr Dalmas Otieno and Omingo Magara to deliver a message to the Head of State.

The encounter lasted less than five minutes, creating a sense of unease and foreboding of what might follow next. Raila followed it up with a statement to the local and international media.

Even though he was diplomatic, he appeared to pinpoint where, in his view and that of ODM, the buck stopped. But he wouldn't have the last word.

President Kibaki emerged shortly after to address the nation.

"I remain ready and willing to conclude the formation of the coalition Cabinet at the earliest possible opportunity," Kibaki said in his statement.

He added: "This matter must come to a close without further delay in order for us to move forward and focus on urgent matters facing our people, the priority being the resettlement of internally displaced Kenyans. I invite Hon Raila Odinga to engage constructively so that we can conclude the formation of the Government."

Tension had heightened as word got around that Kibaki might in fact name a Cabinet. He did not.

In his statement at Pentagon House, Raila castigated PNU for allegedly failing to reciprocate ODM's magnanimity so as to overcome the impasse over a new Cabinet, but fell short of issuing an ultimatum.

The Lang'ata MP said ODM had ceded ground to an "irreducible minimum", but PNU had failed to reciprocate the gesture and instead reneged on Thursday's agreement.

Raila claimed that PNU was insisting on keeping all high profile ministries, including infrastructural ones such as Local Government, Energy, Transport and Roads, which he said had been agreed to be reserved for ODM.

"It seems PNU are keen to distract any agreement. The crisis on portfolio balance is an astonishing illustration of the extent to which PNU are willing to go to monopolise power," he said.

"The resolution of this dispute requires the other side to exhibit some magnanimity, too. They also need to walk that extra mile to meet us," Raila, who went back to the genesis of the crisis and the long road to the Accord and promise of a new dawn, added in the terse, but diplomatic statement.

In view of the alleged backtracking by PNU, Raila said there was no point in going into yesterday's meeting with President Kibaki.

The ODM leader, however, reiterated that the party was hopeful that the stalemate would be resolved to pave way for the grand coalition government.

"Let me state that we are committed to the full and speedy implementation of the accord," Raila said.

He appealed to Kenyans to be more patient so that the matter was dealt with conclusively to avert mistakes that would be regretted in future.

Raila repeated his earlier call to President Kibaki to dissolve the Cabinet to eliminate obstacles in constituting the new Cabinet.

He acknowledged that the President was under pressure from some of the 17 ministers who were unwilling to give up their positions.

"We don't want to be passengers. We are not going to Government to eat. We want to serve this country," he said and added: "We're not entering another government. We're not joining a PNU government; we're forming a new government."

On Monday, in a letter Raila wrote to Kibaki, ODM said the allocation of Cabinet positions must adhere to portfolio balance based on the April 3 agreement.

In the agreement, PNU was to pick nominees for the Finance and Internal Security portfolios and in return, ODM would pick nominees to Local Government, Foreign Affairs, Transport, Energy and Cabinet Affairs ministries.

"It is important that I reiterate the above represents and remains our party's irreducible minimum," Raila said in the letter to Kibaki.

The party's other demand was that the structure and organisation of Government must also be agreed upon in advance before the next meeting of the two principals.

These should include an acceptable classification of ministries, clear definition of the roles and responsibilities of the Office of the Prime Minister, appointments of Permanent Secretaries, ambassadors, chairpersons, directors and chief executives of parastatal and constitutional offices.

Raila proposed that a joint team of four members, two from each side, be constituted to build consensus on the issues in the next three days.

"Please confirm your acceptance of the above before our meeting this afternoon," said Raila in the letter, which also stated that ODM had reluctantly conceded to an enlarged Cabinet of 40.

Raila noted that the meeting on Sunday adjourned for consultations until yesterday afternoon, after the President declined further discussions on portfolio balance and instead insisted on his proposed allocation of ministries.

"Our party is deeply concerned that the stalemate over the formation of the Grand Coalition is increasing uncertainty and anxiety. It is also escalating the mistrust that we as leaders were expected to eliminate by the establishment of the grand coalition," he said.

But a swift reply by President Kibaki, through Head of Civil Service, Mr Francis Muthaura, read: " I have been directed by the President to reply to your letter as follows:

"Contrary to your assertion, it was never agreed that ODM should nominate ministers for the following portfolios: Local Government, Foreign Affairs, Transport, Energy and Cabinet Affairs," said Muthaura.

However, Muthaura expressed the Government's commitment to the National Accord and Reconciliation Act. He told Raila that the executive authority of the Government was vested in the President under the Constitution, which was not amended in the recent constitutional changes.

Replying to ODM's demands point-by-point, Muthaura said the President continues to be the Head of State and Government, and recent amendments did not alter this.

"Consequently, the constitutional duties of the Vice-President, the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Ministers and Ministers are to aid and advise the President," said Muthaura,

He added: "In this regard, they are sharing responsibility of the business of the Government."

In conclusion, Muthaura stated: "The President expects that when you meet today (Monday), you will be able to conclude this issue and constitute the Cabinet without further delay".

But Raila told Kibaki in his letter that: "I expect that you will not make any Cabinet appointments without my concurrence, as doing so will be a clear breach of the Accord and the Constitution."

Raila said ODM had acted in good faith and conveyed to the President that the coalition would be one Government.

"The position PNU is staking claim to implies that we are forming a government with two Cabinets. On the contrary, this is a Grand Coalition of two equal partners sharing executive powers on a 50-50 basis," Raila emphasised.

Reports by Ben Agina, Alex Ndegwa, Brian Adero, Beauttah Omanga and Isaac Ongiri.

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