By Isaac Ongiri
The delicate Grand Coalition is on shaky ground — ODM is unhappy with how partner PNU and specifically President Kibaki is running the Government.
On Monday, the party’s senior Cabinet members met under Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s leadership — to send its message home. In contention is a raft of issues since the formation of the Grand Coalition Government in March last year, foremost among them that the party is not being treated as an equal in the coalition.
Also ruffling feathers is the unilateral decision by President Kibaki to assent to the controversial Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008, even after the Prime Minister had advised while forwarding a Media Owners Association memorandum that it be returned for further consultations.
And the allegation that Head of Civil Service Francis Muthaura has been undermining the PM surfaced again. Also rankling ODM is the way the President — through the office of the Head of Civil Service — is handling the reform of the Electoral Commission.
To underscore its seriousness, the PM lined up 18 of his senior Cabinet ministers, and thereafter addressed a press conference on their concerns.
Here, it emerged that the party was considering its options in the coalition if its interests were not met.
“We have met to review the status of this coalition Government and to discuss a few pertinent issues and draw our agenda for 2009,” Raila said.
The party appeared to flex muscle on Monday when it hinted at forming a team to prepare its fallback position if things don’t work out in the coalition.
“The next Cabinet meeting will determine our next course of action. If we feel our partners are taking us for a ride, then we shall think otherwise,” said a minister who did not want to be named.
He said ODM would exhaust all avenues first before taking action.
“We have mandated the PM to first address the issues we have raised with Kibaki ahead of the Cabinet meeting. The PM will report back to the ODM team ahead of the meeting,” he said.
He continued: “We have conceded a lot and PNU seems to be taking us as junior partners. It seems Kibaki is not in charge of his team,” the minister said, adding that there was a clique of individuals who must be stopped from misadvising the President.
At the meeting held in his office, Raila distanced himself and his party from the controversial Communications Act that gags the media, saying it had been discussed by the PNU Cabinet before ODM joined Government.
ODM said the Bill was agreed on by the 17-member Cabinet from the PNU side formed in January 2008 when mediator John Kufuor arrived in the country.
The latest turn of events could put a strain on the coalition government less than a year after its formation.
Said Raila: “I advised the President not to sign that (Communications) Bill but it now appears that the President was supporting that Bill while we were opposing it”.
On Monday, The Standard obtained correspondence between Raila and Kibaki on the Communications Bill.
In his December 15, 2008 letter to Kibaki, Raila said: “I have reviewed the petition (from the media fraternity) and I’m of the considered view that fresh consultations are appropriate in the matter before any further action is taken on the Bill. There appears to be merit in some of the issues raised in the petition…”
Monday’s meeting is said to have come up with several demands that must be met by President Kibaki.
On the agenda, apart from the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Act 2008, was the transition at the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK). Also discussed was the office of the Head of Civil Service and its relationship with the functions of the PM’s office. It was proposed that Muthaura’s office be abolished if it cannot be placed under the Office of the Prime Minister, who oversees functions of Government ministries.
The meeting also proposed that the party mandates a task force to come up with a fallback position.
The party’s PG is scheduled for tomorrow, and MPs are expected to endorse the ministers’ position.
A Cabinet meeting is scheduled for Thursday.
Addressing journalists after the three-hour meeting, Raila said the party leaders had converged to have a straight talk to review the status of the coalition.
Those in Monday’s meeting included Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, ministers William Ruto, Joseph Nyagah, Charity Ngilu, Henry Kosgey, James Orengo, Chris Obure and Otieno Kajwang.
Also present were Dalmas Otieno, Wycliffe Oparanya, Anyang’ Nyong’o, Mohamed Elmi and Hellen Sambili.
ODM ministers, Raila said, will present their reservations on the new media law on Thurday and demand a new process to review the offending clauses.
“People have fought for freedom, some have died for our country to be free, the media may have its own mistakes but Press freedom must be guaranteed. The Government must be stopped from any attempt to violate it,” the PM said.
Cracks in coalition
The cracks in the Coalition — four months into its first birthday — have been widening over the months, in spite of seemingly cordial relationship between Kibaki and Raila.
“It is the feeling of the ODM ministers that myself and President Kibaki should form a new caretaker committee to oversee the transition and secure Government assets formerly owned by the ECK,” Raila said.
Raila reiterated his earlier demand that the former ECK Secretariat at Anniversary Towers in Nairobi remain closed until such a time that new and an all-consultative caretaker committee is formed.
According to Raila, former ECK staff suspected of involvement in last year’s poll fiasco, and who were named in the transition team by Muthaura must not be allowed in the team.
“We know it will be necessary to have some of the ECK staff reabsorbed in the public service, but we cannot allow those whose activities in the rigging of last year’s elections are known to lead the transition,” he said.