Heads together: Cabinet to meet amid heightened political tension

Wednesday, July 31st, 2019 23:55 |

The Cabinet is today expected to meet, close to two months since the last caucus, amid friction within its ranks and heightened political tension within the ruling Jubilee Party. 

Though the meeting, which will be chaired by President Uhuru Kenyatta and attended by his deputy William Ruto, is routine, it will bring together some Cabinet secretaries perceived to have differing opinion on recent events in the country.

The last Cabinet meeting was held on the day suspended Treasury Cabinet secretary Henry Rotich read the National Budget on June 13.

And although ministers hold regular weekly meetings, Interior Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i, who heads the Cabinet Committee on Implementation, chairs the forums. Decisions made by the Matiang’i sessions are expected to be discussed in today’s meeting.

Reached for comment, State House spokesperson Kanze Dena was non-committal on whether the meeting shall take place. “If the Cabinet meeting will be there, we shall communicate to you by the end of the day as we have always done,” she said.

However, a senior State official confirmed that a full Cabinet meeting would take place at State House. “It will basically ratify decisions made by the implementation committee,” the source said, when asked about the agenda.

Some Cabinet members have recently been sucked into public disputes, including the sensational claim that some of them were allegedly involved in secret meetings where a plot to assassinate the Deputy President was discussed.

Today, Ruto is expected to come face-to-face with CSs Sicily Kariuki (Health), Peter Munya (Industry) and Joe Mucheru (ICT) — who attended meetings at Hotel La Mada on Thika Road where the alleged plot was discussed. The ministers have since dismissed the claim and dared the DP to record a statement with the police on his claims.

Ministers summoned

The ministers, who had been summoned to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations offices, said the La Mada meetings had been called to discuss development matters affecting the Mount Kenya region.

A controversial letter that was the source of the assassination claims led to the arrest and prosecution of government communications official Dennis Itumbi, a close Ruto ally. The official is out on bond after denying charges of making and publishing a false document without authority.

Last evening, Munya was non-committal about a Cabinet meeting only stating: “It is the President’s prerogative to convene the meeting, and if it will be there, there would be no reason for me not to attend.” 

Treasury’s Rotich will miss the meeting after being charged with fraud involving the construction of the multi-billion-shilling Kimwarer and Arror dams in Elgeyo Marakwet county.

Matiang’i, who was in January appointed chairman of the National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee in a move widely seen as cutting Ruto’s powers in government, is expected to play a key role in today’s meeting as he tables the committee’s report.

The disgraced Rotich, who until his removal from office last month, wielded much power in Cabinet, was Matiang’i’s deputy in the committee, which includes all CSs, Attorney General Paul Kihara as well as the Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua.

Ruto has also publicly differed with some of his colleagues over the war against corruption, stating that the drive was targeting certain individuals for political purposes.

Today’s meeting is also likely to deliberate on whether the country should import maize to bridge a deficit created by a poor harvest by local farmers.

Agriculture Cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri last month said his ministry was waiting for a nod from the Cabinet to decide whether to import the deficit of 12 million bags of maize from the Comesa region.

He had ruled out importing the commodity from Mexico on grounds that it was time barred. “Even if we were to import maize from Mexico, it would take 47-60 days and another 136 days to offload the maize from the ship at the Port of Mombasa,” Kiunjuri said.

The ICT Cabinet secretary Mucheru confirmed yesterday that the Matiang’i committee, which has been meeting every Tuesday, had achieved a lot since its formation. “Many people may not know this because the committee has been doing its work behind the scenes as instructed by the President. So far a lot has been achieved,” he said.

Ruto assassination

On the alleged Ruto assassination claims, Mucheru said the matter might not crop up because “everyone knows that they were untrue”. Last weekend, Munya who is a persistent critic of Ruto, told the DP’s political allies in the Mount Kenya region to leave him alone and give him space to execute his mandate, in what can be viewed as growing animosity between the minister and Ruto’s supporters.

When the assassination claims came up, Munya said the meetings had been sanctioned by the President to discuss development issues in Mount Kenya, only for Kiunjuri who is also from the region, to rubbish the forums, saying he was not aware of any such directive.

Also likely to feature in the meeting is a recent circular from by the Head of Public Service directing all State corporations to limit their expenditure as Treasury aligns the 2019/20 budget to the President’s Big Four agenda.

According to the circular, all the State corporations and semi-autonomous agencies are instructed not to undertake any new projects and are required to spend an amount equivalent to a quarter of last year’s approved recurrent budget. 

“This amount should support all priority expenses over the first quarter ending September 30. Further a moratorium is hereby issued placing in abeyance all capital expenditure until otherwise directed” reads the memo. 

Kenyatta University political science lecturer Prof Edward Kisiangani yesterday said Kenyans would be waiting to see the outcome of the meeting, and in particular whether it would progress without any of the differences that have been displayed in public, emerging.

“Although the Cabinet sits with an agenda and is minuted and no one can introduce a matter that has not been scheduled for discussion to such a meeting, it would be interesting for Kenyans to know how the meeting shall progress after weeks of public spats among some CSs,” he said.

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