Saturday, April 18, 2009



April 18 2009
By Ben Agina and Abiya Ochola

We today reveal the secret hand that forced President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to the talking table on Wednesday, and the drastic steps taken to salvage the Coalition Government.

And we go behind the scenes to, for the first time, tell the inside story of how the President and the Prime Minister ignored the hardliners in their parties, to strike a deal that could see the coalition back on track after the failed Kilaguni talks.

It took at least five calls and visits by US President Barack Obama Administration representatives to bring the squabbling coalition principals to face-to-face talks to resolve their intractable differences. And matters came to a head when State Secretary Hillary Clinton wrote to the two on the need for the coalition to stick together and fast-track key reforms under Agenda Four.

The letter to the President was delivered on Wednesday, hours before the principals held unscheduled talks.

As pressure mounted, the principals moved to convene a meeting of the Permanent Committee on the Management of Grand Coalition Affairs the following day at Harambee House.

Our sources said the Prime Minister was given the message contained in the letter that Wednesday, but received the actual letter yesterday morning, from US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger, who also delivered Kibaki’s.

It is during the talks that the principals, showing a more purposeful sense of direction and leadership, brushed aside obstacles placed on the way by their aides and allies.

Cabinet meeting postponed

Our sources revealed until minutes to the Wednesday evening meeting, the PM had maintained that he would not meet the President unless a scheduled Cabinet meeting was postponed, and a meeting of the Kilaguni team reconvened, instead.

When the two finally met at Harambee House after the President agreed to postpone the Cabinet meeting, it was an anti-climax of sorts.

After a chat between the two principals on the plight of IDPs and the need to resolve the problem once and for all, the two leaders got into the sticky issue of the management of the coalition.

The Prime Minister said there was no need holding a Cabinet meeting at which people would only be shouting at each other. He said the parties needed to iron out issues before the Cabinet could meet.

The President wanted to know from Mr Francis Muthaura, the Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet, who was present, whether the coalition team was ready.

Muthaura cut short

But Muthaura said the meeting was not necessary, adding the groundwork had not been done. Our sources say Muthaura was cut short when the PM said it did not require groundwork, and the President put it tacitly: "Let’s have the meeting."

"The President chastised his party, saying members were creating a mountain out of a molehill. He was emphatic when they came to issues of the PM’s protocol, saying Raila deserved a higher protocol and even moved on to the issue of the PM’s salary," the source said.

The President said it was for the Tribunal reviewing MPs’ salaries to recommend to the House how much the PM should earn.

"This is a closed chapter. Raila should enjoy his status as an equal partner in the coalition," the President said.

Caught off guard, Muthaura, who had kicked off the debate on salaries, said the media misquoted his presentation to the tribunal.

The two quickly agreed that a team be formed to draw an agenda for discussion by coalition partners on Wednesday night.

The President appointed Muthaura to represent him while the PM tasked his administrative secretary Caroli Omondi to hold brief. The two were asked to come up with agenda of the coalition meeting and take it back to their bosses that night.

Fast-tracking reform agenda

On the agenda was the guiding principles and institutional framework for managing the affairs of the Grand Coalition, fast-tracking the National Reform Agenda under the National Accord and Executive appointments.

"While in Muthaura’s office drawing the agenda, the pair was joined by presidential advisors Kivutha Kibwana, Raphael Tuju, Government spokesman Alfred Mutua and Sam Mwale who quickly threw more spanners into the works," says a source who could not be named, as they are not authorised to speak to the Press.

Tuju, however, excused himself, saying he was there on a separate mission. Mutua insisted that ODM wanted to sack people and renegotiate the accord, saying that is what the party meant by its agenda item on management of coalition.

Mutua and Kibwana wanted to know what ODM meant by political appointments, which the party was insisting should be shared equally.

A meeting that had ended with little fuss between the PM and the President was degenerating into a vicious contest at the Office of the President, now in the absence of Kibaki and Raila.

Omondi said political appointments are jobs given out not through interviews with the PSC, but by Executive order.

"It is a tradition across the world that every new administration makes certain appointments based on understanding that they understand and support the administration’s position on certain issues and would speed up their implementation," he said.

Standoff over appointments

To end the standoff over political appointments, Mwale proposed that they use Executive instead of political appointments.

When the matter featured at the Thursday meeting of the entire committee, the President and the Prime Minister agreed with ease that, there are political appointments in government and there should be away of formalising this between him and the PM.

It was also agreed that a joint secretariat, to be funded by the Exchequer, be formed headed by Miguna Miguna (ODM) and Kibwana (PNU). It was also agreed that the PM be consulted and his concurrence sought in civil service, military and parastatals postings.

Raila set ball rolling

However, modalities for consultation were yet to be worked out.

Our sources say Raila set the ball rolling when he wrote to the President on Tuesday on the need for the coalition partners to discuss and agree on issues under the Agenda Four of the National Accord.

"I am writing for and on behalf of the ODM to express the urgent need for the Grand Coalition partners to discuss thoroughly and agree on the (i) immediate steps to be taken to advance the national reform agenda as embodied in Agenda Number Four of the National Accord and (ii) the modalities and framework for managing the affairs of the Grand Coalition," Raila stated.

And in his reply the same day, the President concurred with his co-principal that there was need for both parties to commit themselves to reforms.

"I agree with you on the need to fast-track the reforms we have committed ourselves to, especially the Agenda Number 4 of the Grand Coalition," said Kibaki.

He added: "My side of the coalition and I are determined to work with you and the ODM partners to fast track this agenda," Kibaki wrote.

Kibaki at the same time invited Raila to his office on Wednesday so that, "We both reflect on this matter to agree on the way forward".

At centre of their discussion were the thorny issues of the need to hold another meeting for the permanent committee of the management of the Grand Coalition affairs and the scheduled Cabinet meeting.

"The two principals agreed that it would be rational to try and bond the two partners through the permanent committee meeting than facing a hostile Cabinet," said a source that declined to be named because of the nature of his job.