Tension in Cabinet as Ministers quarrel

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By Ben Agina, News Editor

Food issues dominated the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday in which gloves came off as a bitter verbal exchange between ministers unfolded before President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

The latest exchange revealed the strains in the Grand Coalition Government even as the Kibaki succession intrigues gained momentum.

Agriculture Minister William Ruto went on the offensive when the question of maize imports came up, but Justice Minister Martha Karua restated what she has been saying publicly: That Mr Ruto should take responsibility for the maize scandal at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) and resign.

Several ministers at the meeting told The Standard the meeting took off cordially with the Agriculture minister briefing the Cabinet on the maize situation.

But the discussion degenerated into acrimony in what some ministers saw as tension in the Kibaki succession.

Sources said at some point, Ruto veered off the subject matter and accused Ms Karua of failing to use her Justice docket to start investigation into the scandal.

Oil matters

But Karua said she was not the one who started talking about corruption in the sector.

Sources said she told the meeting that talk about the sale of maize came into the open when Eldoret businessman Jackson Kibor owned up to buying 100,000 bags of maize from NCPB although he is not a miller.

Karua maintained that Ruto should take full responsibility for what had transpired in his ministry.

“Ruto is accountable as the Minister for Agriculture. He should take full responsibility of whatever happens in his ministry,” Karua is reported to have said by a source at the meeting.

Sources said Karua said there should have been no “written documents” giving businessmen the authority to buy the maize since the grains were subsidised to provide adequate supplies to Kenyans facing food shortages.

It was at that juncture that Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi is said to have jumped into the fray to exonerate himself from the multi-billion shilling oil scandal involving Triton and Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC).

Kiraitu wondered why he was being accused of complicity yet what transpired at KPC was between a customer, bank and the oil pipeline company.

“How can I be involved in the oil scam, which had nothing to do with me or my ministry? That was the work of junior officers at KPC,” Kiraitu is said to have told the meeting.

At one point, the exchanges got so stormy that maize and oil matters were deferred to next week’s meeting.

The Cabinet reviewed the food situation and re-affirmed the need to adhere to approved food import quantities and schedules to ensure that the country does not run out of food.

The meeting requested Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyattta to prepare a detailed programme and schedule on targeted food subsidies for consideration at the next Cabinet meeting. Parliament will also be required to debate and approve the subsidies.

Promoting tribalism

The meeting underscored the need to ensure transparency in the subsidy programme and food distribution.

Other concerns that emerged include Cabinet ministers’ squabbles, especially from those angling for the 2012 General Election.

Another minister said lack of collective responsibility among colleagues was a threat to unity in the Cabinet.

“When a minister calls for the resignation of the President and the Prime Minister, then something is wrong,” said one minister, who sought anonymity.

This was obvious reference to Nairobi Metropolitan Minister Mutula Kilonzo’s comments last week that Kibaki and Raila should resign in the wake of Government loss in a vote for Bill in Parliament.

The exchange at the Cabinet meeting comes only days after Karua, Tourism Minister Najib Balala and their Foreign Affairs counterpart Moses Wetangula called on Cabinet colleagues implicated in corruption to step aside.

Speaking at the weekend, the Gichugu MP said the oil and the maize scandals had ripped Kenya of millions of shillings and the perpetrators should be punished.

“Each minister should carry his/her responsibility and, in case of failure, the only thing the President and PM should do is to sack them in the interest of Kenyans,” Karua said.

She said it was wrong for people tainted with scandals to continue holding Cabinet positions.

“When a child makes a mistake, it is the responsibility of the parent to take a cane and discipline him or her to serve as a lesson to other children,” Karua said in apparent reference to Kiraitu and Ruto.

She also accused some non-performing ministers of promoting tribalism in an effort to cover up for failures and mistakes.

“No one is fighting another. But as leaders, we must strive to deliver services to Kenyans because we are their servants. But some of us have turned to tribalism to cover up our mistakes,” she added.

Mr Wetangula said he would support the censure Motion against Ruto.

“We are ready to support the Motion of censure on Ruto in Parliament as a way of ending impunity in the country,” he said.

Without naming names, Mr Balala said corruption had made Kenyans lose faith in the Grand Coalition Government and time was ripe for President Kibaki to crack down the corrupt.

— Additional reporting by Mutinda Mwanzia

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