Friday, August 19, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Three important news items caught my attention this week. One was Ambassador Muthaura’s proposal that Kenya should reduce the number of ministries from 41 to 19. The other was the blatant failure by Kenya’s Energy Regulator to regulate fuel prices. However, the more hilarious one was the sudden emergence of a new opinion pollster with outrageous results on political leaders.

Let me remind readers of this column that way back in January 2008 when PNU and ODM were hammering out modalities of forming a cabinet; I had tea at the Serena Hotel with Professor Oduol, the Principal of Kenya Polytechnic University on the matter. The reason the good professor needed my opinion was because he thought I understood the dynamics of Kenyan politics at the time and through me, we would convey our concerns to Hon Raila Amolo Odinga who we had access to.

Over this tea, we discussed in details the challenges of forming a cabinet that was lean, efficient and cost effective without leaving Coalition Partners with eggs on their faces. Despite the challenges and even possible resistance from followers from both parties that we anticipated, we published an article that justified a maximum of 16 cabinet ministers, 16 assistant ministers and of course the President, the Prime Minister and the Attorney General. And since the government would have a prime minister in charge of day today running of the government, we left out the post of vice president.

Our suggestion for a 16 member cabinet was based on the fact that at that time, we had 8 provinces such that the 16 ministries would be distributed among the provinces with each province having two cabinet posts and two assistant minister positions.

However, when the cabinet was finally announced, political expediency, personal interests, regional and ethnic politics had their way and we ended up splitting ministries beyond recognition if for anything but to satisfy the egos of political party supporters of coalition partners. Logic, reason and common sense lost the battle.

Four years later, this debate has been rekindled by the Head of the Civil Service as a parting shot for the next government in 2012. The irony of it all is that this time round it has received instant approval from Parliamentarians even before the President sees it. Wasn’t it gratifying that what was a mere theory in 2008 is likely to be adopted by the next government?

As we await the reaction from the Cabinet on this proposal, we must turn our attention to another creation of the Cabinet that was supposed to be in response to the cries of the people of Kenya.

When fuel prices hit the roof in Kenya six months ago with prices of basic necessities climbing in equal measure, the Cabinet met and gave Kenya Energy Regulatory Authority powers to control the price of fuel pumps. We then breathed a sigh of relief thinking that our prayers had been answered. We were wrong. Six months down the line, fuel prices have been rising steadily from an average of Ksh 80.00 to now an all time high of Ks. 119.00 in some parts of Kenya.

Despite this poor performance, the management of this regulatory body still sleeps well and reports to the office every morning without a whimper from either the minister of Energy or the cabinet. In some countries, such performance without a detailed explanation to the public would have earned them resignation or even sent the government packing. But again, this is Kenya where performance in public offices has nothing to do with the public such performance is supposed to serve.

Finally to the hilarious one! On Monday this week, a new opinion pollster going by the name Smart Octopus released its opinion poll that fell out of step with all other opinion polls in the past. And whereas Kenyans were ready to give the new guys a chance to give them the direction politics was going; there were a few observations that were pretty puzzling.

From the beginning, the pollster gave Raila Odinga the narrowest lead in a long time- 26% against Uhuru Kenyatta’s 23%, Kalonzo Musyoka -19%, William Ruto -16% and Eugene Wamalwa -6%.

The pollster curiously introduced a contender that nobody has had of. This mysterious Ben Mulwa who we were made to understand is a hot number in Social media was accorded 4% beating better known political figures such as Martha Karua and Peter Kenneth. Incidentally the pollster excluded quite a number of hopefuls such as Moses Wetangula, Cyrus Jirongo, Wakoli Bufuoli and Mutava Musyimi!

One can see a scenario where the pollster tried so hard to make a political statement that in Central province, there is only one candidate worth talking about as so is Rift Valley, Eastern Province and Western Kenya. Musalia Mudavadi was completely blacked out.

What the pollster intended to convey to Kenyans was that come 2012, there will be no clear winner and that between Raila and Uhuru, it will be too close to call necessitating a rerun. And this is where he dropped a bombshell. During the rerun, Raila will lose by a wide margin to Uhuru, Kalonzo or Ruto. His numbers would remain static in the 20 percentage points while Uhuru would soar to 50 and Kalonzo or Ruto would romp home with a landslide in the 60 percentage points.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Samuel Thiari’s numbers because by being a pollster, we must accord him space to say his piece. What he didn’t try to do was to persuade Kenyans to take him seriously. No wonder the Daily Nation and the Star gave this poll a wide berth if not a total blackout. Without a small space the Standard gave him at the bottom of page 10, I too would have missed the story.