Saturday, April 12, 2008



Daily Nation, April 12,2008

One serious issue that seems to have been put on the back burner as the country is consumed with the near collapse of efforts to form a national unity government is the size of the Cabinet.

As efforts continue to get President Kibaki and Prime Minister-designate Raila Odinga back to the negotiating table, spokesmen for both sides have indicated that the large Cabinet of 40 ministries the two had agreed on before the talks broke down can be reduced.

With signs that negotiations behind the scenes may bear fruit and result in a grand coalition Cabinet being appointed in the next few days, the Saturday Nation revisits the issue and proposes a lean Cabinet of 24 ministries together with how they can be equitably shared between PNU and ODM.

The 24 ministries would give each side 12 slots, including those of the deputy prime ministers and any ministers that might be attached to the Office of the President or the Office of Prime Minister.

The figure of 24 was settled on after a close look at cabinets since independence established this number as the ideal maximum.

The government at independence was composed of Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta and 16 ministers.

The Government formed one year later after the merger of Kanu and Kadu and the shift to republican status was only larger by three ministers.

Changing needs and priorities in subsequent years gradually increased the size of the Cabinet to around 25, but when in recent years the numbers rose above that, it emerged that the increase was not for the purpose of enhanced efficiency or specific governance needs, but merely to create dockets and room for individuals or to placate political and ethnic interests.

This has mostly been done not by creating specific units to handle new tasks and priorities, but by simply hiving off existing government departments and turning them into fully-fledged ministries.

Similar considerations have clearly come into play with the current proposals for an expanded Cabinet of anything between 36 and 44 ministries.

There is simply no justification now and there has not been in the past to separate Trade from Industry or Livestock and Fisheries from Agriculture. There is also no need to have separate ministries for Higher Education and Basic Education.

Also, there is no need to continue the practice of having a Home Affairs ministry stripped of its core functions such as Internal Security and Provincial Administration, leaving it with matters such as Prisons, National Heritage and Children’s services.

The latter two can easily fit into more suitable dockets if Home Affairs reverts to its natural responsibilities.

Changing times

There is still need, however, to take heed of changing times and evolving priorities. Thus the proposed ministry for development of Northern Kenya and other marginalised regions is important.

Also important at this time would be a ministry specifically devoted to driving national reconstruction, reconciliation and resettlement as part of efforts to build a new and prosperous country.

On how the dockets are shared out, there is no need to interfere with the earlier agreement by both parties allowing the President to retain the key Security and Finance dockets, but that comes with the trade-off allowing ODM nominees to get the main infrastructure dockets.

After that the remaining ministries can simply be paired in regard to size and function and distributed randomly.

What ought to be the guiding principle, however, is that once a Cabinet is in place, it will be one united government rather than a two-in-one government.

Already in place is a team to harmonise the PNU and ODM manifestos. Once that is done the coalition government should be working on the same programmes and policies, and not have one wing loyal to the President and another to the Prime Minister.

The stalemate over formation of a new Cabinet was grounded squarely on the issue of “portfolio balance” as required by the power-sharing deal signed between President Kibaki and Mr Odinga that came into law as the National Accord and Reconciliation Act.

The accord allowed for creation of an office of Prime Minister and two deputies to be part of a grand coalition government made up equally from both sides of Parliament.

Another issue that initially caused division was on the size of the Cabinet. Mr Odinga initially insisted on what he termed a “lean” Cabinet of 34, which would be achieved by simply doubling the size of President Kibaki’s current “half Cabinet” of 17 with the inclusion ODM members.

That would still have made up the biggest Cabinet ever in Kenya, but the figure of 34 looked modest compared to the massive 44 initially proposed by President Kibaki’s PNU, which did not want to drop any of the current lot and also wanted space for more appointments to placate some former ministers and groupings left out of the half Cabinet.

When President Kibaki and Mr Odinga eventually met on April 3 to announce that they had reached an agreement, it emerged that they had settled on 40 ministries — which was still considerably large.

The proposal for such a bloated Cabinet provoked widespread outrage, but the anger was overshadowed by much bigger concerns as the effort to form a unity Cabinet almost collapsed amid differences over equity in portfolio sharing.

New conditions

While the talks ground to a halt, ODM introduced a raft of new conditions, including going back on the agreement for 40 government ministries and saying they should be no more than 36.

In response PNU members of Parliament said they were prepared even for a really lean Cabinet of 20, a statement that seemed calculated to call the ODM bluff.

It is time the bluffs of both parties were called.