NAIROBI, April 3 – For the first time in history, Kenya is set to boast a unique cabinet comprising of Members of Parliament (MPs) from the current government, the Party of National Unity (PNU) Coalition and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).
This is following the power sharing deal between President Mwai Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga, aimed at putting an end to ugly scenes of violence spurred by a disputed presidential election.
The only arrangement that has ever come close to this is the ‘Government of National Unity’ formed by both President Mwai Kibaki and his predecessor Daniel arap Moi, mainly to achieve a majority in Parliament. This time though the power sharing deal is geared towards devolving executive power and unifying a nation that has been widely divided along ethnic lines.
Secondly it would have been impossible for the Government as currently constituted to succeed in running its business in the House for lack of a clear majority.
The new look Cabinet will consist of the President, Vice President, the Prime Minister and his two deputies, the Attorney General, and Ministers and their Assistants who will be appointed based on consultations between the two principal players, President Kibaki and the Prime Minister designate Odinga.
The Prime Minister who will be charged with the responsibility of co-ordinating and supervising government operations will be the second in the country since independence, after founding father Kenya’s Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
The premier in waiting, Odinga, is indeed already enjoying the benefits of a high profile dignitary including a State motorcade and security.
The political settlement is expected to last for five years, if the new ‘political marriage’ stands the test of time. And with the frequent confrontations and shows of mistrust from lieutenants on both sides, Kenyans can only keep their fingers crossed.
Ministers and Assistant Ministers
On Thursday, President Kibaki announced that the two parties had agreed on a Cabinet with 40 members. Should every Minister get one Assistant Minister, the cabinet will have a total of 80 members.
In the previous government, there were 34 Ministers and 54 Assistant Ministers bringing the total to 88, as some Ministers had more than one assistant.
It was also in the previous regime that some Assistant Ministers came out in the open to complain of being undermined and sidelined by their Ministers.
They also grumbled that they had no work to do.
Scenes of Ministers and their deputies undermining each other in public functions were often witnessed.
Laikipia East Member of Parliament (MP) Mwangi Kiunjuri had suggested during a Parliamentary session that Assistant Ministers be given the title of Deputy Minister, with well spelled out responsibilities to promote their relevance.
He said it would make them significant and stop reducing them to ‘speech readers’ as had been the case in the past.
A former Assistant Minister Kalembe Ndile had even once asked the President to define his role, accusing his boss, the then Tourism Minister Morris Dzoro, of taking him for granted.
However, it will be up to President Kibaki and Odinga to decide this time round on whether or not there will be Assistant Ministers and if they will keep their titles.
In the new look Cabinet Pentagon Member Musalia Mudavadi is ODM’s preferred candidate for one of the Deputy Prime Minister’s post.
It’s not clear if the government will settle on Local Government Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, or Justice Minister Martha Karua.
The two have equal stakes with Karua, a long time defender of the President and chief negotiator for the government in the National Dialogue and Reconciliation Talks, expected to take the office using the advantage of her gender.
Kenyatta on the other hand leads KANU, one of the main parties in the PNU coalition, and was one of the main campaigners for President Kibaki’s re-election last year.
Pentagon Members, Najib Balala, Joseph Nyaga and former Health Minister Charity Ngilu are likely to be ODM’s Ministers.
Other MPs prone to be part of the cabinet from the ODM side include Kajiado Central MP Joseph Nkaissery, South Mugirango MP Omingo Magara, ODM Secretary General Professor Anyang’ Nyong’o, Mbita MP Otieno Kajwang’, Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo, ODM negotiator in the mediation talks James Orengo and the former Head of Civil Service Sally Kosgei.
On the government’s coalition side ODM Kenya’s Mutula Kilonzo, who was greatly involved in the mediation talks, is likely to be in the coalition Cabinet.
Young and new legislators, who constitute 65 percent of the current Parliament, are likely to dominate the list of Assistant Ministers.
With the announcement of the Cabinet on Sunday it’s not clear if the current 17 Ministers already in place will be re-appointed or reshuffled, however President Kibaki will still have three more slots.
The 17 were part of Kibaki’s half Cabinet formed to govern the country as it grappled with a national and political crisis.
In the spirit of a subsequent 50-50 power sharing deal, it’s expected that each side will get to appoint 20 MPs to the Cabinet.
There could be some resistance however, because some members of the Civil Society held a street protest on Tuesday to advocate for a lean Cabinet of not more than 24 Ministers, citing a heavy financial burden on the taxpayer.
Some MPs also told Capital News that the 50-50 split should bear the design where a government Minister would have an ODM Assistant and vice versa.
Others were of the view that the coalition should have a lean Cabinet of one Assistant Minister and fewer Ministers since there will be no Opposition.
The issue of the opposition remains open since all the MPs will in principle be in the same government. Several suggestions have been floated on who should keep the government in check.
Odinga last Saturday indicated that legislators from smaller parties should join hands and act as the opposition.
Another school of thought proposes that backbenchers in Parliament are better placed to bear the watch-dog responsibilities.
It is also expected that those who miss out on the golden list would retreat to the back benches and as such would be the de facto opposition group.
The civil society and the media fraternity are also expected to keep the government on its toes, a role that civil society organisations have actually been embracing since the historic signing of the political agreement on February 28.
The financial implication on the new expanded government however remains a thorny issue. And though government spokesman Alfred Mutua said that ministerial budgets will remain unchanged, members of the public who spoke to Capital News were aggravated by the expected financial burden.
This, they said, will only come from their pockets and yet they were suffering enough as it is.