NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 5 – Prime Minister Raila Odinga said on Monday that he would compel President Mwai Kibaki to discuss the Communications Act with the Cabinet with a view to amend oppressive clauses contained in it.
Speaking after holding a four-hour closed door meeting with the Orange Democratic Movement’s (ODM) top brass he said the Act was a threat to media freedom in the country.
“The ODM finds certain clauses of the Media Act unacceptable in a democratic society, we have requested the Prime Minister to discuss this matter with the President, to bring it before the Cabinet on Thursday so that the government could initiate necessary amendments,” he said.
The Prime Minister further elucidated that the controversial Act would be discussed at ODM’s Parliamentary Group meeting scheduled for Thursday.
Mr Odinga claimed that the Information and Communications Minister Samuel Poghisio rushed the Bill to Parliament without any consultations within Cabinet. He strongly defended ODM legislators over the Bill’s passage, saying they were not aware that the Bill would come to Parliament on the day it was passed.
“The matter was discussed with the Minister concerned and he was advised to remove the Bill from the Business of the House that particular day, unfortunately that did not happen. A number of ODM MPs were technically unaware that the Bill would come on that day,” he said.
The Premier also said that ODM had requested Mr Poghisio to remove the hostile clauses and accused him of ignoring their recommendations.
Mr Odinga at the same time used the media conference to deny any competition between him and the Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura, saying that they both had separate offices and roles. He said the coalition was between him and President Mwai Kibaki.
“Muthaura has his own office; there is no competition between me and him. I really find it very demeaning for you to demand that I talk of an office of a Permanent Secretary,” he derided.
An apparent power struggle has been reported between the Premier and Mr Muthaura, with the latest confrontation surrounding the retention of certain electoral officials by the civil service boss, which the PM terms illegal.
Mr Odinga still maintained on Monday that all Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) offices would remain closed until the Interim Electoral Committee was formed.
He further told the ECK officials to stay away from the commission offices to ensure documents containing vital evidence in pending cases against the commission are not tampered with.
“ECK offices should remain closed until the Office of the President and the Office of the Prime Minister formulate a caretaker committee to pave way for the interim commission, to undertake electoral matters in the country,” the Premier insisted.
According to the Premier, ODM was practically satisfied with the progress of the coalition party.
He made the remarks amid complaints by a section of the ODM outfit that they were being sidelined by their partners in the grand coalition government.
“We are satisfied with the role that ODM has played as a coalition partner in the last eight months. This is not the first time coalition partners have disagreed; others disagree very frequently, so this is not something unique, that’s how coalitions run worldwide,” he stated.
Elsewhere, the PNU coalition said that it is ready to support amendments that will be tabled by the media fraternity to ensure the freedom of the press is protected.
Speaking on behalf of fellow secretary generals from PNU and KANU, ODM-K Secretary General Mutula Kilonzo called on the Cabinet to embrace the ongoing media debate saying there is need to re-look certain sections within the Kenya Communications Act.
“As the PNU coalition, we realise the need to review the entire law from the 1998 legislation which created this problem to the last version passed last year. We will support all efforts to reconcile the legislative work of Parliament and the freedom of expression enshrined in the constitution.”
Mr Mutula said it was misleading for the ODM counterparts to portray the issue as being a grand coalition issue.
“This will could a very serious post elective debate that is occurring in the country.”
His PNU counterpart Kiraitu Murungi said that while he supported calls ‘to amend the mistakes that have been discovered in the Act’, it was upon the media to pass the test of reasonability in the interest of objectivity and respect of private opinion.
“Article 19 of the Human Rights Convention states the freedom of press. What we have a problem with is that due process has not been followed in calling for the amendments while same people are trying to politicise the issue.”