Wednesday, September 17, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
September 17, 2008

Yes, Honourable Ababa Namwamba and the Opposition caucus, you are damn right. President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga must tackle problems facing Kenyans, among them the looming famine because that was precisely why Kenyans elected them. Each manifesto in the ODM, ODK and PNU was very specific on this. They promised to eradicate poverty, rampant corruption, revamp the economy, create jobs and improve the well being of all Kenyans. If they deliver on this, they will have tackled the many problems you rightly state are facing Kenyans.

Again, you are right to demand on behalf of all Kenyans that the two principal owners of the Accord provide Kenyans with firm, quick and sustainable solutions to escalating fuel prices and biting famine.

Yes, Kenyans are hurting while oil firms are smiling all the way to the bank. Yes, millions of Kenyans are confronted with biting hunger, malnutrition and even death from starvation while our MPs, including the opposition caucus are bursting at the seams with each passing day. Yes, this is one area where all MPs are as guilty as Kibaki, Raila and the entire cabinet. Remember; South Sudan has responded positively to this problem by slashing the salaries of MPs, State Governors, Ministers and other holders of constitutional offices.

Just look at this arithmetic: If each MP in a famine stricken constituency surrendered Ks 500,000 per month to feed his people and asked other donors to match that figure, how many lives will we save?
And we will not stop there. We will demand that these sacrifices include the President, Prime Minister, Vice President and all cabinet ministers including the overpaid but underperforming offices at KACC!
Yes, in desperate times, there is a call to desperate measures. Haroun Mwau is already doing it.

While commending Ababu’s group for this forthright and issue based approach to national issues, it is refreshing to note that the Government has conceded it urgently needs Sh.5.3 billion to purchase 65,000 metric tonnes of cereals to complement the existing strategic grain reserves. This means that both sides have recognized that indeed we have a national crisis on our hands. It is also reassuring to note that the Ministry of Special Programmes has identified at least 5.3 million people that are facing imminent starvation, among them 3.5 million urban slum dwellers and 1.38 million in the countryside as per the Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) released early this week.

The good thing about this report is that it has named specific districts most adversely affected; therefore it gives the government no excuse at all not to pre-empt any famine related deaths on our land. And this is where the Ababu Namwamba group comes in. They must strive to closely monitor and if necessary supervise relief programmes diligently so that no relief stocks ever find their ways into greedy individuals’ shops as has happened before.

Members of the Grand Opposition Caucus are blaming President Kibaki, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Premier Raila Odinga for continuing to conduct business as usual while ordinary Kenyans who paid the price of the post-election crisis are suffering. I wonder what these three people alone can do without the cooperation of the rest of Parliament or whether they are the only persons to blame for the chaos that followed the elections. Yes, there was a post election crisis. Yes, Kenyans fought and killed each other for politicians who either lost or claimed victory. This is the one area where no single politician can pretend to point fingers at others. It is a collective guilt they all must bear until a solution is found.

True and rightly so; the opposition caucus is alarmed by the high cost of energy that has spiralled out of control, with devastating effects on ordinary Kenyans. To me being alarmed means just waking up one morning to find the situation has changed. Is this what has happened to our honourables MPs? If so, then they are out of touch with the suffering Kenyans have been going through especially when MPs have ensured that they are cushioned against all manner of rising prices of food, fuel, electricity, water and telephones since the state takes care of these items through their tax free lifestyles.

On the hiring and firing of public servants, I concur totally with the Opposition caucus. We fought the Moi regime for years for the very arbitrary way in which he treated his ministers and civil servants. We called his style roadside decisions. Public office holders are human beings with families and friends. They need some level of respect and a dignified way of removing them from public offices. Yes, Ms Rachel Lumbasyo and Jacinta Mwatela should have been treated in a more civilized manner. However, instead of moaning, MPs should table a bill in Parliament to trim the President’s powers of hiring and firing at will. More importantly, this bill should restrict the powers of ministers, stating clearly that before a minister fires a CEO or Chairman of a public company, he or she must table details and reasons for planning to do so in Parliament for debate.

Finally, politicians must stop politicizing the armed forces and the civil service because this practice is a recipe for chaos. Any country that has gone this route has lived to regret it. Again, MPs should rush a bill in Parliament empowering the Parliamentary Security, Defense and Public Service Committees to scrutinize all armed forces and civil service promotions and appointments.

Opposition Caucus wants to move a motion for the compensation of lives lost in the post-election violence, IDPs and missing persons. This is a noble and humane idea that should get the support of most MPs in Parliament.

However, since those who died lost their lives fighting for their rights that were stolen from them or died defending their party stands, how do we compensate them before we penalize the very politicians they died for? Should MPs and political parties be called upon to contribute to this kitty?

But the best part was when the Caucus promised to pursue progressive legislative agenda aimed at strengthening institutions of democracy in Kenya and responding to the myriad challenges facing Kenyans. More importantly, they promised to hold the coalition government accountable to the roadmap for delivering a new constitution by April, 2009 while fighting grand corruption at the same time.

If they can do all the above and streamline salary disparities in the civil service the South Sudan way, Kenyans will forever be indebted to them.
Yes, it is time the Opposition Caucus focussed on pertinent public issues rather than personalities.