Tuesday, September 9, 2008



September 9, 2008
By Joseph Murimi And Francis Ngige
The Standard

Leaders from Central Province, including those who bitterly opposed the creation of the office of the Prime Minister, have changed their minds on the post.

The position of PM has gained acceptance in the region and appears set to be a permanent feature in the Constitution. The leaders do not just want the post created, they want it to have executive powers in a system presided over by a ceremonial president.

Four years ago, leaders from the region were unanimous in their opposition, particularly to the creation of a powerful PM’s office. The argument then was that the position would create two centres of power and plunge the country into chaos. That has changed and the politicians have now become strong proponents of the office.

Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta’s call for constituency boundary reviews has been seen to be coming with the PM’s office in mind. This week, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua said the position would be a permanent feature in the Constitution.

"My view is that this position is here to stay, but with some variation. I see it becoming stronger. The distribution of power at the top is going to be a permanent feature,’’ said Karua.

opposed position

She said the controversy over the position when Narc took power in 2003 was over the structure and powers of the office. The minister said both the Bomas and Kilifi draft constitutions provided for a PM and the dispute was on the powers.

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga when they signed an agreement on power sharing at Harambee House. The agreement led to formation of the coalition government with Raila as PM. Photo: FILE

Former Cabinet Minister Njeru Ndwiga, who was among those who opposed the creation of the position, now says it is here to stay. He said Central Province leaders had opposed the position because they did not want a person who was not elected to have executive powers.

"There is now change of heart. What we did not want was somebody who is not elected to have more powers than the President. We were not opposed to the whole idea,’’ said Ndwiga.

The former Manyatta MP said what they wanted was a structured position with powers clearly defined. The PM, Mr Ndwiga said, would check the powers of the President.

Ndwiga supported an arrangement where the President remains the Head of State and Commander of Armed Forces, while the Prime Minister heads Government. He wants a President elected directly and a PM picked from the party with a majority in Parliament.

imperial president

Whether Kenya needs a PM is no longer debatable, according to Igembe South MP Mithika Linturi.

Mr Linturi said Kenyans have said a big no to an imperial President with all the powers. He wants the powers shared with the PM.

Water Assistant Minister Mwangi Kiunjuri, a strong opponent of the office in President Kibaki’s first term, also wants it now.

Mr Kiunjuri said Kenya should adopt a parliamentary system of government headed by an Executive Prime Minister.

centres of power

The MP said the presidential system should be done away with, and the office watered down to a ceremonial one. In President Kibaki’s first term, Kiunjuri was a strong opponent of plans to make the presidency ceremonial.

"Time has come for us to change our ways. Let us embrace the parliamentary system and make the presidency a ceremonial office," Kiunjuri said.

In President Kibaki’s first term, leaders in the Mt Kenya region argued that the establishment of the office would create two centres of power. Led by then Justice Minister Kiraitu Murungi, the leaders cited the Congo and Zimbabwe as among countries where it caused chaos.

An interview with politicians from the region this week revealed a different picture.

Ol-Kalou MP Erastus Mureithi said the creation of the PM’s office has led to better co-ordination in government. Mr Mureithi said the perception that the office was reserved for an individual or would compete with the presidency has changed among most Kenyans.

"I think the creation of the PM’s office is good for the country. We have seen what such an office can bring in terms of service delivery," Mureithi said.

Good relationship

"As the situation is now, the President and the PM seem to have a very good working relationship," the MP said.

Manyatta MP Emilio Kathuri echoed Mureithi’s sentiments, adding the earlier fears were misplaced and executive powers should be shared.

Mr Kathuri said the PM’s office under Langata MP Mr Raila Odinga has soberly handled issues affecting the people.

"The mandate of the PM is clear and he has been carrying out his duties diligently," said Kathuri. "The impression that there would be two centres of power was based on a phobia for the unknown and I think Raila has demystified certain notions," he added.

Misplaced doubts

Kathuri said Raila had won the hearts of many in the way he has handled national issues.

Similar sentiments came from Mwea MP Peter Gitau. Mr Gitau said the Government has run smoothly even after creation of the PM’s office, indicating that the doubts had been misplaced. The previous MP, Mr Alfred Nderitu, bitterly opposed the creation of the office.

"I think the PM is here to stay and the new constitution should give it more mandate," said Gitau.

"Save for the protocol hiccups that threatened the grand coalition, I think the operation of the Government is going on smoothly after the holders of the offices settled," he added.

Kirinyaga Central MP Ngata Kariuki also supported the creation of a PM’s post, saying the experiment has worked well.

"Raila has shown that a PM can make a difference. If everyone could agree to accept him, we would do well," the MP said.

"The PM should be in the constitution without much resistance now. The only problem I foresee is that Raila has set a high bar and the next one may not have the charisma to match him," he added.

But Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni differed with his colleagues, saying the PM’s office created two centres of power.

Mr Kioni argued that had it not been for the "politeness and the gentleman way" of President Kibaki, there would be conflicts.

He said the supervision and coordination of ministries that the PM had been mandated to carry out was still within the powers of the President.

"If Kibaki was as abrasive as Raila, I don’t think the grand coalition would be working effectively. It is only that the President has left ministers to work independently," said Kioni.