8 February 2010

Kenya: Raila Steps Up Push for Ongeri to Resign

Nairobi — Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Monday, for the second time, asked Education minister Sam Ongeri to resign and make way for an investigation into the free education scandal.

Speaking during a meeting at Equity Bank headquarters in Upper Hill, Nairobi, Mr Odinga repeated last Friday's demand that Prof Ongeri and his permanent secretary Karega Mutahi step aside.

Prof Ongeri, who was at the function, spoke quietly to Mr Odinga after the PM's remarks. He later told the Nation that he informed the Prime Minister he should not have raised the issue in public.

Proper investigations

In his speech, Mr Odinga said: "I told my friend the minister for Education and the permanent secretary to step aside to allow for investigations.

"Investigations start by suspecting everybody. People then go by way of elimination. That is how proper investigations are carried out," Mr Odinga said, to laughter by the crowd in attendance.

Prof Ongeri, who sat next to Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta, watched as Mr Odinga went on to say that the Nyaribari Masaba MP was his personal friend, but he would still do the same (call for resignation) of his brother or family member if mentioned in graft.

Prof Ongeri and Prof Mutahi have been under pressure to resign after it emerged that ministry officials had falsified records to defraud the free education programme of millions of shillings.

Fifty officials have been suspended and Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission is investigating the scandal. Donors have withheld cash for the programme.

Speaking to the Nation later, Prof Ongeri said by raising the issue at an official meeting, the Prime Minister was "behaving like any other heckler".

"I wondered why he committed the mistake in public again when I am not under any investigations."

What was being investigated in the ministry, he said, was a matter of imprests, which affected individual officers and he had no role to play.

He could only step aside, he said, if he was found guilty of an offence.

The minister, a surgeon and former professor of medicine, said it was wrong for the PM to attack him in public when he had a chance to deal with the matter in their offices.

"It is wrong to turn out to be a heckler like other people when you have a clear way of dealing with the matter in private at offices."

After the meeting, Mr Odinga shook hands with Prof Ongeri and the two beamed at each other.

Equity bank boss James Mwangi joked: "As you can see, they are friends."

Mr Odinga said the country needed to embrace a proper anti-corruption culture and gave the example of India where the minister for Transport once resigned after a train was involved in an accident.

"We must face this animal called corruption head-on. Sometimes it's a matter of perception. When allegations are made, we must give it benefit of doubt and allow investigations to be carried out," Mr Odinga said.

The PM regretted that Kenya was now ranked among corruption giants such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Pakistan, adding that Kenya does not belong to such a league.

End graft stigma

He said the country must manage its scarce resources prudently and end the stigma of being portrayed as among the most corrupt countries in the world.

Radical change in the management of education is required, to one where communities, teachers, parents and administrators are held accountable.

Every child should have equal access to quality education and upward social mobility, Mr Odinga added, and all Kenyans should have equal access to quality medical care.

In his speech, Prof Ongeri made no mention of the free education cash scandal.

Mr Kenyatta, who together with Mr Odinga, each gave Sh1 million for a fund launched by Equity Bank and Mastercard International to assist needy students, said the war against corruption could not be won through a war of words, but by strong strategies. And there should be goodwill from all for the fight to succeed, he added.

The Finance minister said donors were happy with the way the government was addressing the education scandal.

"We have put in place a robust action plan for disbursement of resources," he said, adding that the government had also started reimbursing donors the lost funds.

He announced that more than 4000 nurses are to be recruited to start work in March.

Meanwhile, activists have given the President a seven-day ultimatum to sack Prof Ongeri and his PS or face mass action.

"No credible investigations can take place when the two are in office. They must get out," Mr Okoiti Omtata, a human rights activist, said.

In Malindi, Coast Parliamentary Group (CPG) vice-chairman Gideon Mung'aro said some MPs were collecting signatures to pass a vote of no-confidence in Prof Ongeri.

In Kisii, three MPs backed Mr Odinga's calls. Foreign Affairs assistant minister Richard Onyonka and MPs Charles Onyancha and Simon Ogari said the PM was right to ask Prof Ongeri to step aside.

But in Eldoret, MPs Benjamin Lagat of Ainamoi and Elijah Lagat of Emgwen accused Mr Odinga of making "roadside declarations.

They said Mr Odinga was out to win political support for fighting high level corruption.

Additional reports by Daniel Nyassy, Muchemi Wachira, Samuel Siringi and Benson Nyagesiba

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