Sunday, July 6, 2008



July 6, 2008
Sunday Nation

When President Mwai Kibaki summoned embattled Finance Minister Amos Kimunya to State House, Nairobi on Saturday afternoon, there was widespread anticipation that he was going to be asked to step aside to pave away for investigations into the raging Grand Regency Hotel saga.

Justice, Constitutional Affairs and National Cohesion minister Martha Karua gets a hand while dressing in Maasai gear during Kajiado South MP Katoo Ole Metito’s home coming ceremony at Oloitokitok on Saturday. The minister was among those who maintained that Finance Minister Kimunya should resign. Photo/PETERSON GITHAIGA
The fury of secret media briefings as the meeting went on was a clear indication that Mr Kimunya has more implacable and powerful rivals than the ones who humiliated him on the floor of the House earlier in the week and that those rivals are inside President Mwai Kibaki’s Kitchen Cabinet — an informal grouping of presidential cronies from Central Kenya.

As it turned, Mr Kimunya walked out of State House at about 4 p.m. a relieved man, having survived another day, to face more battles in which his integrity has been questioned and his presence in parliament declared unwanted.

The infighting amongst the President’s inner circle, described by one senior government official as “bad blood” and by a powerful Cabinet minister as “sibling rivalry” has left Mr Kimunya and his allies believing that he has been stabbed in the back, the Sunday Nation has learnt.

The war in the kitchen cabinet played itself out on Tuesday night when his presumed allies did not lift a finger in his assistance when the motion of censure came up for discussion before the House Business Committee, that day chaired by Deputy Leader of Government Business and Justice minister, Ms Martha Karua.

The revelations about infighting in the Kibaki circle came as Cabinet colleagues and members of parliament piled pressure on Mr Kimunya to step aside or be sacked pending investigations into Grand Regency saga that has gripped the country.

Such was the desertion of the Kimunya camp in the House that Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka could not get the votes to have the motion of censure moved to Wednesday. The VP could not even get the support of 15 MPs to demand a physical count of the votes on his motion of adjournment.

A source with good knowledge of Mr Kibaki’s closest associates told the Sunday Nation that political rivalries are about political supremacy in the Kikuyu tribe and the overall leadership of the so-called Mt Kenya region, which also includes Embu and Meru.

Mr Kibaki, who is not eligible for re-election, will be stepping down not only from the presidency but also from his presumed leadership of his region.

Those believed to be lining up to inherit his mantle, and possibly run for president, are Ms Karua, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Kimunya.

Ms Karua has some goodwill because of her spirited defence of Mr Kibaki during the post-election crisis and the subsequent negotiations during which she played a prominent role. She has made no secret about her ambitions and is now the chairperson of Narc-Kenya.

Mr Kenyatta, son of founding President Jomo Kenyatta, was the handpicked successor of retired President Moi and lost the presidency to Mr Kibaki in 2002. He did not oppose Mr Kibaki in 2007 and broke off from the Orange Democratic Movement to support him, possibly in the hope that he will run in 2012.

Mr Kimunya enjoys a close relationship with the President and his family, going back many years. He is also, in the view of some observers, the “blue-eyed boy” of the Muthaiga Group, an informal set of the President’s wealthy friends. Mr Kimunya was once chairman of the Muthaiga Golf Club, the President’s golf club, a useful networking position and something of an asset in the social pecking order.

Prof George Saitoti, believed to be a calculating and inscrutable politician, is also waiting in the wings for his chance to run.

On Saturday, a Cabinet minister recounted to the Sunday Nation how Mr Kimunya was “set up” by his presumed allies a day before the crucial debate.

“The previous day, we held a meeting in the Vice President’s office in which it was agreed that Kimunya was to sit back and let others come to his defence. They would respond on his behalf especially if the debate on the motion assumed political overtones,” a source who attended the Jogoo House meeting said.

Mr Kimunya, the Sunday Nation learnt, was “shocked” to see that it was only the VP who stood with him arguing that debate on the motion be postponed to the following day to allow “the government side more time to prepare.”

Even as Mr Musyoka argued for more time, a number of ministers watched the show from the comfort of their seats, never once choosing to catch the Speaker’s eye and support the VP.

It is instructive, observers say, that the House Business Committee, in which senior members of government sit, approved the Kimunya motion even though the same government needed more time to prepare a defence.

The meeting was chaired by Ms Karua, who is the deputy leader of government business in the House. A committee member who did not wish to be named said that the business of prioritising the censure motion was not opposed by anyone at the Tuesday evening meeting.

Cabinet ministers Uhuru Kenyatta, George Saitoti, Beth Mugo, Chirau Mwakwere and Ms Karua remained glued to their seats as the debate raged.

It was only on Friday that Mr Kenyatta issued a belated defence of Mr Kimunya. “I have not seen Kimunya’s name in the report and we should not conduct Cabinet affairs in the media,” Mr Kenyatta said.

But Narc Kenya, the party chaired by Ms Karua, has instead demanded “a full disclosure” over the saga.

As Ms Karua kept to her seat on Wednesday, another Narc Kenya stalwart, Danson Mungatana, rose and confounded observers when he supported the motion.

“Kimunya sat there expecting that there would be someone to start off his defence but there was none,” the Cabinet minister who did not wish to be named said. “That’s when he realised that there was a political battle going on and his opponents had found another opportunity to get at him.”

On Saturday, Ms Karua , the acting Narc Kenya boss, said her party stood for transparency and accountability. She also became the first member of the Kibaki inner circle to call for Mr Kimunya’s resignation.

“Our position still remains and we shall continue to be vigilant whenever the law is flouted. Since Kimunya has been mentioned in the sale of the Grand Regency, which is said not to have been above board, he should step aside pending investigations,” said Ms Karua.

“There are others pointing an accusing finger at the beleaguered minister or shouting to protect him yet they too have cases pending in court. Let them be warned that their cases are very much on course,” said Ms Karua who is also the minister for Justice, Constitutional Affairs and National Cohesion.

The minister was addressing residents of Loitokitok during the homecoming ceremony of Kajiado South MP Katoo Ole Metito. Others present were Security Minister Saitoti, assistant ministers Joseph Nkaissery, Mungatana, Peter Kenneth and Asman Kamama. The others were MPs Walter Nyambati, Njeru Githae, Gideon Konchella, Jamlek Kamau and former Naivasha MP Jayne Kihara.

Prof Saitoti, who typically shuns controversy, steered clear of the Grand Regency saga. Instead he concentrated on mending fences with Mr Nkaissery, with whom he shared a chopper.

It was Mr Nkaissery who set the stage for the call for Mr Kimunya’s resignation when he said: “If Kimunya has been implicated in corruption, the honourable thing for him to do is to step aside to pave way for investigations or else he be sacked.” “We have nothing personal against him but for the sake and integrity of the coalition government and the country at large, Mr Kimunya must go,” he said.

Mr Mungatana said that as a party, Narc Kenya had, during its recent retreat in Naivasha, resolved that Mr Kimunya be investigated. He said the party has nothing personal against Mr Kimunya.

He then turned his guns on Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta for defending the Finance minister.

“Let the minister be informed that what Parliament has passed cannot be reversed. If anything, Mr Kenyatta was in Parliament when Kimunya was being censured. With all the time allocated why didn’t he utter a word?’ It is the country, through Parliament, that spoke,” said Mr Mungatana.

Safina leader Paul Muite is, however, of the view that Kenyans should not read politics in the saga and Mr Kimunya should carry his own cross.

“There can never be collective responsibility or community interests where plundering of public resources is concerned,’’ Mr Muite said. He said the President should no longer procrastinate in sacking Mr Kimunya because it would suggest there is something to hide.

Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi downplayed claims that the grand coalition government was under threat due to the Grand Regency saga.

Mr Mudavadi said the government could not be immediately threatened by issues affecting an individual.

Co-operatives minister Joe Nyaga also asked Mr Kimunya to step aside to facilitate investigations into the matter.

“If I was in the same position as the minister, I would step aside to facilitate investigations,” he said.

The minister, who spoke in Nairobi during the Ushirika Day celebrations on Saturday, said the government should not be seen to be tolerating corruption. He said the grand coalition government would not fail just because there were disagreements among cabinet ministers over certain issues of national interest.

Water and Irrigation minister Charity Ngilu called for the dissolution of the grand coalition government to make way for fresh elections if President Kibaki does not sack the Finance minister. ‘‘The terms of engagement of this grand coalition were not to condone corruption,” the minister said.

Cabinet minister Otieno Kajwang demanded Mr Kimunya’s resignation and criticised the statement by Mr Kenyatta that MPs acted like “a lynch mob” during the censure motion. The Immigration and Registration of Persons minister told his cabinet colleague to respect MPs and desist from imputing improper motives on his parliamentary colleagues.

At the same time, Mr Kajwang challenged Mr Kenyatta to explain to the public why he did not defend Mr Kimunya and make the “wild” claims on the floor of Parliament during the debate.

“It matters not whether the President or the Prime Minister or the Attorney General were aware about the secret sale, what is most important to us is: did Mr Kimunya follow the law or not?” Mr Kajwang said.

Mr Mungatana also criticised Mr Kenyatta and said: ‘‘Let Uhuru be told that what Parliament has passed cannot be reversed.’’

Siakago MP Lenny Kivuti, who is also a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Finance, Planning and Trade chaired by Mr Chris Okemo, said: “Although Mr Kimunya is my friend, he should step aside to allow Kenyans to know the truth.”

NGO council chairperson Orie Rogo Manduli said Mr Kimunya should step aside “and save President Kibaki the agony of sacking him.”