Stalemate over Cabinet positions
Published on March 23, 2008, 12:00 am
By Dennis Onyango
President Kibaki and Prime minister-designate Mr Raila Odinga meet on Tuesday as a silent war rages in the backstage between key figures in the two main blocs.
Because of delay in achieving the 50-50 power sharing deal and portfolio balance, in line with the national accord, attention is turning to the lead mediator Dr Kofi Annan. The former UN secretary-general might have to come back to preside over the implementation of Agenda Three, which tackled sharing of Government positions.
So entrenched are the two sides as to who will get what portfolio, that save for direct intervention of the principals, the next crucial face may not achieve much soon.
Despite display of rediscovered ‘friendship’ and a working arrangement between the partners of the Grand Coalition Government, a silent struggle is going on between the Orange Democratic Movement and the Party of National Unity.
The haggling for choice ministries, especially those with a higher profile and seen as strategic, could not only delay the naming of the Cabinet but give way to a highly bloated one.
Behind the scenes, the statement by Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet Mr Francis Muthaura, who dismissed sharing of civil service positions, is still being fought.
Some ODM leaders now say Annan should be recalled to oversee the implementation of Agenda Three, which entails portfolio balance. Sources within the national dialogue team reveal Dr Annan anticipated problems in sharing out of Government positions and promised to return.
“He left with the understanding that Agenda Three, portfolio balance, was going to be problematic and he would be willing to come back. There is evidence that he is needed,” the source said.
“Portfolio balancing was part of the negotiations and it is part of what Kibaki and Raila signed. It was not just to accommodate MPs and ministers into the Cabinet. US Secretary of State Dr Condelezza Rice talked of real power sharing, and that cannot be about the Cabinet,” an ODM official familiar with the ongoing negotiations said.
The Sunday Standard established that even the sharing of Cabinet slots is becoming tricky. Some leaders have called on Raila and Kibaki to directly discuss the issue themselves and keep civil servants, including Muthaura and Cabinet ministers, out of the talks.
Alternatively, they want the negotiating team to concede that it is stuck at Agenda Three and write to Annan to come back.
“Civil servants are trying to protect their positions and they are sabotaging this process. When Annan left, he did not say he was closing the chapter. In fact, he said he anticipated resistance over Agenda Three. He expected that he would return and help with portfolio balancing. He should be asked to return and do it,” the source said.
Sources told Sunday Standard that at least twice, an ODM delegation to Muthaura with the party’s version of portfolio balancing has come back empty-handed.
The Head of Civil Service told one ODM delegation, that included party chairman Mr Henry Kosgey and the secretary-general Prof Anyang Nyong’o, that PNU is likely to keep all its current ministries, and some of the few left, along with those to be created.
One of the ministries Mr Muthaura is said to be proposing is Fisheries, which will be hived off Livestock to create two ministries, to then be handed to ODM.
He is also said to have told an ODM delegation that the Ministry of Roads and Public Works would be split into two, with Public Works going to ODM and Roads remaining with PNU.
The developments have incensed some party officials, including some at the peace talks. They now want Annan to return to the country and take over the process again, unless Kibaki and Raila step in and shove Muthaura aside.
“If the two principals, Raila and Kibaki, are finding it hard to discuss portfolio balance, let Annan return. There is no way we are going to be asked to negotiate with people whose positions we want to take. Somebody is playing games,” a source said.
As a way of ending the crisis, the US and the rest of international community called for “a governance arrangement that will allow real power-sharing … a grand coalition so that Kenya can be governed.”
The US told the Kenyan government that “real power-sharing” with the main opposition party was the best way to put the country back on track after the disputed December election.
Now, the partners are stuck on the interpretation of “real power sharing” and sections of the Government are pushing for an expanded Cabinet of up to 41 members.
That would allow PNU to keep what it already has and even take more of the remaining slots, as well as create space for ODM too.
Mr Muthaura is said to have suggested the creation of ministries of Industrialisation, Fisheries and Livestock, on top of existing ones, for ODM.
Also said to be getting involved in the talks are Cabinet ministers Prof George Saitoti and Mr Amos Kimunya, who have lately held discussions with Nyong’o and Kosgey over portfolio balance. Some find the involvement of Cabinet ministers in the process counter-productive, given that some have their positions targeted.
A section of the leaders want the portfolio balancing to be discussed by the dialogue team that meets at Serena, unless President Kibaki and Raila are ready to take it up themselves. “I see our team almost celebrating when we have nothing to celebrate,” a top ODM member said.
During the negotiations, an expert from Germany took the parties through the ways to share government, which would leave both sides happy.
German minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, Mr Gernot Erler, briefed members of the Kofi Annan-led mediation talks on how the coalition works.
Under grand coalition, Mr Erler said, the party with a majority in Parliament takes key positions like prime minister and Speaker of National Assembly.
In Germany, he said, there were also deputy prime minister’s and vice-speaker’s positions occupied by the second strongest party.
Other positions including key ministries are shared proportionally but only the two strongest parties form a grand coalition. “The most important thing is to have a system where you can balance at all levels. One party should not dominate,” he said.
His country, he added, had a special committee whose members include the Chancellor, leaders of parties and a spokesman of Parliament. The team addresses any problem that arises and advises the government.
Picking up from the expert, ODM last week developed a proposal to be taken to the President on what the party would consider fair.
ODM agreed the Cabinet should not exceed 34 members. But the Government is said to be pushing for a minimum of 39 and a maximum of 41.
A team of experts engaged by the party recommended that it should ask for ministries of Planning, Agriculture, Local Government, Health, Trade, Energy, Transport and Youth and Sports.
The team also asked ODM to seek the Ministry of Lands.
That would leave PNU with Internal Security, Defence, Foreign Affairs, Education, Public Works, Home Affairs and Information.
The ODM technical team is also pushing for a Ministry of Northern Kenya, Reconstruction and Special Programmes.
The party’s team says its proposal for portfolio balance is based on the understanding that security ministries remain an integral part of the Office of the President as requested by PNU.
The only security docket ODM is laying claim to is Immigration and Registration of Persons. It also thinks it should take Public Service, arguing that just as Defence and Foreign Affairs are in the domain of the OP, Public Service falls within the powers of the PM who will be co-ordinating and supervising Government affairs.
In ministries ODM has listed under Service, it agrees that PNU should take a bigger chunk, including Housing, Culture, Gender and Heritage.
In return, the party’s team of experts proposes that it be given the Attorney-General’s position in addition to Health, Youth, Special Programmes and Reconstruction.
The proposals are yet to be taken to the President.
Although Mr Muthaura indicated that civil service positions were not up for sharing, some leaders fear that if the issue is not tackled, even resettlement of victims of violence would be difficult.
But some ODM leaders say the sharing of civil service and parastatal positions is not a priority, as they will fall in place once the new Cabinet is constituted. “There is no need of discussing sharing of the civil service. Once the new government is formed, the various ministers will sort out many of the managing directors and permanent secretaries. If you think you can’t work with a PS or an MD, it is not too much to ask that he be replaced,” a senior ODM official said.
“Some of our officials have been asked to meet Mr Kimunya and Prof Saitoti over portfolio balancing. Now the seat Kimunya has is the one we want as ODM. How do you go to somebody and tell him we are here to discuss how to share your seat? This thing should be discussed by our principals, Raila and Kibaki,” a senior ODM official said.
Twice last week, a meeting between the two failed to take off and was finally fixed for Tuesday. There is expectation that Raila could be formally named PM and be sworn in this week. But some in his party want the swearing in postponed until all the positions are negotiated and agreed on