Sunday, July 6, 2008



July 6, 2008
Sunday Nation

Nationally, the expectation is that Finance Minister Amos Kimunya will either be sacked, or will be demoted – assuming he does not resign. But people with a knowledge of President Kibaki’s character are sure he will not act because of being forced to do so but will choose to move at his own timing. Mr Kimunya could even survive if it turns out there was no impropriety.

Demonstrators carry placards outside the Grand Regency Hotel in Nairobi on Friday in support of Finance Minister Amos Kimunya. Photo/JAMES NJUGUNA
Apparently Mr Kimunya’s present reprieve is not because his sympathisers in high places put a lot of weight in him; it appears there is a deliberate spin to show that President Kibaki and his PNU minders will not be bullied.

A curious statement on Thursday from the Office of the Cabinet Secretary Francis Muthaura cancelling a scheduled cabinet meeting that day was a perfect indicator that we have a two-headed government masquerading as one. The cancellation followed the publication of the report by a sub-committee of the cabinet – in the same government – formed to investigate the Grand Regency hotel affair.

The import of the statement from the Cabinet office was impossible to miss. It said: “The attention of Government has been drawn to media reports about a technical sub-committee of Cabinet having issued a report. Government would like to inform the public that the report has neither reached the Cabinet nor has it received Cabinet attention.”

Cancel cabinet meeting

The statement went the closest it could go to say it did not recognise the committee’s report. It is understood Mr Kibaki went ballistic when the report was leaked to the media without his knowledge.

It happens the report was ready at about 4 pm on the afternoon of Wednesday. The assumption was that it would be taken to the President thereafter. This did not happen.

An aide to Mr Muthaura claimed his boss got the report at about 7 pm. “By then, the media were calling us about the report which obviously they had received already. We had not,” said the aide.

Mr Muthaura was expecting to go and brief the President on the report, but the leakage apparently caused everything to go haywire. It is understood the cabinet meeting on Thursday was cancelled from State House as a result of the leak.

As a matter of fact, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta gave a good inkling of the official thinking when he said that “it is unacceptable that a government sub-committee whose findings are supposed to be deliberated in the full cabinet is now being discussed in the media.”

As if to underline his displeasure, not only did Mr Kibaki cancel the cabinet meeting, but the following day he was off for a function in Kakamega. So far he had not uttered a single word about the Grand Regency matter.

Something else happened after the cancellation of the full cabinet meeting. Five ministers in Kibaki’s trusted inner-circle were called to State House for a confidential meeting with the Head of State.

They were Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, the Environment Minister John Michuki, Security Minister George Saitoti, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, and Metropolitan Development Minister Mutula Kilonzo. Mr Muthaura was also present.

The Sunday Nation failed to establish what exactly this meeting discussed, though it is said it had a direct bearing on the Kimunya matter.

Justice Minister Martha Karua’s omission from this veritable High Council was curious, considering the very high profile she has been having in the Kibaki inner circle especially after the last election.

One possibility is that the convenors may have thought her attitude to the Kimunya matter was ambiguous. Ms Karua was one of the first cabinet ministers to lambast the Grand Regency deal.

Also interesting was Mr Kilonzo’s presence after he had publicly declared the valuation of the hotel to be fraudulent. An even more interesting presence at the meeting was Mr Kimunya himself who, it is logical to surmise, had been called to explain himself.

The view that Mr Kimunya’s goose at the Treasury is cooked is reinforced by the fact that it will be terribly difficult for him to function when it comes to the very crucial business of engaging Parliament, which has already censured him.

A Sessional Paper on the long-overdue Mombasa port modernisation which is to be financed by a Japanese loan could run into problems because of the MPs’ hostility to Mr Kimunya.

Censor motion

Within certain quarters, there is a view that besides the usual coalition wars in government, there was an inside element that was not too unhappy to see Mr Kimunya get into trouble. All this is being tied to the Kibaki Succession wars for 2012.

For one, Ms Karua stood out as the only PNU-allied minister who unequivocally denounced the Grand Regency sale.

It could be a case of reading too much out of nothing, but the subsequent support of the censure motion in Parliament by Ms Karua’s former assistant minister at Justice (who is now in Medical Services), Mr Danson Mungatana, fuelled a feeling among Mr Kimunya’s supporters that Ms Karua was out to get him.

Both Ms Karua and Mr Mungatana belong to the same party, Narc-Kenya. Mr Kimunya is also technically in the flower party, but he is not as tightly associated with it as the other two.

The Justice minister is also the Deputy Leader of Government Business and in that capacity deputises on Parliament’s House Business Committee, which is the organ that okayed the debate on the censure motion against Mr Kimunya. Ms Karua did not back Mr Musyoka, in his capacity as Leader of Government Business, when he tried to have the motion deferred.

A week ago, Ms Karua was the featured person at a party meeting in Naivasha where the crowded positions of vice-chairmen were abolished and she had herself installed as chairperson and Mungatana as organising secretary.

That meeting went further to announce plans to delink Narc-Kenya from PNU, a move that raised eyebrows in many quarters. Mr Kimunya did not attend that meeting.

On the same day, a majority of Narc-Kenya and PNU MPs had congregated in Mwingi for Vice-President Musyoka’s “homecoming” party. Rightly or wrongly, the Naivasha meeting was seen as intended to upstage the Mwingi party.

Quixotic interest

In all fairness, Ms Karua is not seen as having any particular beef with Mr Musyoka. But she has lately been vehemently promoting herself as a presidential candidate for 2012. Others from her region with similar ambitions like Mr Kenyatta seem to have deferred, for strategic reasons, to Mr Musyoka’s expected re-run.

That alone has sort of painted her as not being a team player and somebody who could inadvertently fragment the PNU vote to ODM’s advantage.

Mr Kimunya had at one time expressed what was seen to be a quixotic interest in being President in the future. At that time, the Finance minister was riding high. He had made a direct entry into cabinet as Lands Minister in his first stint as MP in 2003. When Mr Chris Murungaru and his power-broking clique were kicked out, Mr Kimunya was among the beneficiaries who stepped up to fill the vacuum.

One of the remarkable things about Mr Kimunya’s predicament was how none of his PNU cabinet colleagues spoke for him in Parliament. Mr Michuki did, speak, but it was on a procedural matter rather than on other issues surrounding the censure.

Even Mrs Beth Mugo, the Public Health minister who had backed him at the Mwingi rally, chose to keep mum. It is understood to be a matter of some disappointment to the embattled Mr Kimunya that colleagues he expected to speak out for him did not.

But the bloodthirsty mood in Parliament may have forced them to conclude that any intervention would be hopeless.

For Mr Kimunya, one of his great failings is that he was never particularly popular with fellow MPs. They regarded him as haughty and a bit of a lightweight. He now suggests his proposal to tax their allowances triggered the war, but clearly there was a lot more behind it.