There was more than met the eye in Parliament’s unequivocal rejection of Ambassador Monica Juma’s nomination to the powerful office of Secretary to the Cabinet on Thursday.
Multiple interviews with Office of the President (OP) officials, MPs, State House insiders and people in the know revealed an intricate web of underlying factors which conspired to end a short but illustrious civil service career of a woman many attest is brilliant, professional and firm to the core.
From Kenya’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and the AU, to PS Defence, PS internal Security and, until Thursday, presidential nominee to the Secretary to the Cabinet post, all in a span of two years, some would say she was moving too fast before she met her waterloo.
The tip of the iceberg in the whole matter is the perceived arrogance of Juma. The real iceberg, it is emerging, is a vortex of underlying factors; fallout over management of multi-billion Office of President confidential fund, succession battles, incumbency influence and unapologetic crushing of OP cartels.
The confidential fund particularly weighed in against her. The fund, usually set outside normal budgetary allocation, is used for the discretionary financing of administrative and political emergencies that may afflict the government of the day. By its nature, the fund falls outside the scope of government audit, spending procedures and oversight.
Sources in OP say Juma landed in OP at a time the fund had been demystified and popularised by her predecessors. Political and administrative operatives, MPs included, it is said, had perfected schemes to access the fund until Juma arrived.
“She put paid to these schemes and insisted on proper and prudent spending of the fund. She saw through all attempts to create circumstances to invite the use of the fund. MPs and their associates were the first casualties,” an OP source intimated to The Standard on Sunday.
Leader of Minority in the National Assembly Francis Nyenze affirms this position: “I heard it with my colleagues as we walked to the garden party after the budget. Effectively, she had dried the taps on the Jubilee ‘sky-team’ which relied on those funds to spread propaganda across the country.”
For the better part of this year, the sky-team, a loose group of top Jubilee politicians accused of criss-crossing the country in helicopters has significantly toned down its activities.
In addition, operatives — especially elected Jubilee MPs — kept bothering her over appointments, transfers, recruitment slots, sackings, promotions and retention in line with past practice. She wouldn’t give in despite big names being dropped in support of such requests.
It is against this background that the much talked about October 24, 2014 letter to the Senate and National Assembly Clerks was written. In the letter, Juma only complained against attempts to interfere with appointment, transfer or retention of officers in her department.
“I wish to indicate that honouring such requests poses a huge challenge, is unsustainable and would in some cases constitute a breach of the civil service code of regulations, the provisions of the Constitution as well as policy frameworks,” she wrote.
In the letter which MPs vetting her say amounted to stopping them from visiting her office, Juma requested the two clerks to “kindly inform the Honourable MPs and Senators” that the requests were presenting a challenge in her office attempt to act “within the confines of the law and laid down procedures”.
The practice of her predecessors betrayed her actions. According to our sources, the confidential fund was easily deployed to set-up projects like pro-government demos or opinion polls which were solely planned to access the monies.
“In the past, we would get particular number of slots in recruitment of police officers and other state officers. In the last police recruitment, when Monica was already here, I did not get a single opportunity to boost my villagers,” an OP source said.
The last recruitment was conducted in May this year following a controversial one conducted in July last year, a month before Juma moved from Defence to Interior docket. The July exercise was nullified by the High Court over massive fraud and corruption. By early this year, when Jubilee MPs had a retreat in Naivasha, she had already fallen out of their favour. During the meeting in which MPs staged a coup against the sky-team, Juma became the target of attack for her “stinginess and disrespect to MPs”.
“It was a Jubilee affair, really. You could even judge by the demeanour of Majority Leader Aden Duale while moving an amendment to extent the House consideration on the matter. He was smiling and laughing all through. It was all choreographed,” Nyenze adds.
The sacking of Francis Kimemia, a long-serving public officer who wielded immense influence and who is the first holder of the docket under the 2010 Constitution, is also being cited as a factor weighing against Juma.
President Uhuru Kenyatta appears to have embarked on a trajectory of whittling down Kimemia’s influence as soon as he took power in March 2013. He first split his “Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet” office into two, clipped his wings in chairing crucial security committees before dropping him altogether in the reshuffle in which Juma was nominated.
A lot of career civil servants serving in government have grown with or under Kimemia. Parliamentary Security Committee chairman Asman Kamama is one such servant. He chaired the committee that rejected Juma’s nomination. When Kimemia was being vetted for the same position in 2013, Kamama spoke in glowing tribute of his former boss.
Closely related to this is the jostling to replace Head of Civil Service Joseph Kinyua who is said to be angling for retirement.
“Juma is an obvious candidate for replacing Kinyua at the top. You only need to review her meteoric rise to understand that she has the President’s trust and ear. And that is something some people cannot live with. She’s a victim of her own success and prospects,” a State House official told The Standard on Sunday.
The circumstances leading to her rejection on Thursday also pointed to strong forces which left members of public, and some MPs, of strong opinion that top government officials did not want her. A member of the committee which vetted her confessed to this writer that Juma was not wanted “from the top”. “Trust me when I say it’s all coming from up there. We may have our own issues with her but there’s more to it. And that’s besides us,” the MP who flatly refused to be quoted said.
So powerful is the hand behind the move that when Kamama rose to move the motion, the odds were hugely stacked against Juma. Kamama, Leader of Majority Aden Duale, and Speaker Justin Muturi had a difficult time speaking as MPs bayed for Juma’s blood.
Muturi even had to warn the MPs against the folly of attempting to extract blood from a rock.
The report was not even debated. Kamama moved it and was seconded before Duale attempted to extend the consideration period. Shortly thereafter and without the mover being called to reply, Muturi put the two questions on extension and suitability in quick succession resulting in a massive defeat.
Both Duale and Muturi denied any hand in the rejection when The Standard on Sunday spoke to them.
Muturi said he allowed Duale to move an amendment which would have saved the day and allow room for more consultations on the matter. He said his hands were further tied by the fact that the 14-day window within which to decide Juma’s fate were lapsing that day and that it was also a budget-reading day.
“I know the President has a lot of trust in Ambassador Juma. I personally know her to be a very brilliant person. It is quite unfortunate that she couldn’t go through. It is even more unfortunate that people are trying to drag the name of the appointing authority in the whole thing,” Muturi said.
Duale says he pulled all stops to save the day but MPs would not give him a chance. He too believes Juma epitomises the kind of public service and transformation the Jubilee administration aspires for.
“We needed more time to convince the MPs. That is why we moved the motion to push forward the time in which we hoped to convince our colleagues to see the light,” Duale, whose motion was seconded by Jamleck Kamau, said.
Nyenze insists that the behaviour of Jubilee MPs on Thursday was extraordinary and out of tune with their form. He claims if there was a strong push for Juma from State House, Jubilee MPs would not have acted differently.
“It is a classic case of Jesus appearing before the court of Pontious Pilate and the Roman turning him to the people for the final verdict. Pilate knew Jesus was not a threat to the Romans but to Pharisees. He, however, washed his hands and left it to the same Pharisees to do whatever they wanted to do with him. Any reasonable person can see that Jubilee didn’t want her,” he said.
But State House officials say they did enough for her.
“We lobbied all through. I personally called most of the MPs. We had a meeting with the house leadership at 11am. There is no way the President would send a nominee he does not support to Parliament for vetting. That is an outright contradiction of terms,” a top State House official told The Standard on Sunday.
It is understood that the President himself relentlessly called the Speaker on Thursday morning. In addition, the President dispatched his Constitutional Affairs advisor Abdikadir Mohamed for lobbying meetings with parliamentary leadership and individual MPs.
In sentiments later echoed by the official State House response to the debacle, the official described what went down in Parliament on Thursday as “downright gross and outrageous”.
“His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta wishes to express his profound disappointment with National Assembly’s decision to reject the nomination of Dr Monica Juma as Secretary to the Cabinet,” a dispatch from State House on Thursday evening said.
The dispatch signed by the President’s spokesman Manoah Esipisu described the rejection as a “spurning of a public servant whose performance has consistently delivered professionalism, integrity and commitment to the duties of government and well being of Kenyans”.
In the Kamama committee’s report, seen by The Standard on Sunday, the MPs agree that Juma has requisite qualifications and experience, has never been implicated in any scandal, has earned her way to the top and exhibited “impressive knowledge” of her docket.
They, however, lurched on to the controversial letter to nail her.
Juma’s downfall is also being viewed in terms of alleged systematic campaign to cleanse Uhuru’s government of “outsiders” who have failed to appreciate the baggage of political campaign machinery which put him in power.
Top civil servants allegedly beholden to alternative political networks are on the chopping board. It is the same narrative for Director of Public Prosecution Keriako Tobiko who was marked long before the controversial “list of shame” was tabled in Parliament.
Juma’s husband Prof Peter Kagwanja was a core member of the late Internal Security Minister and presidential hopeful Prof George Saitoti. There are those, it is said, who continue to view Juma though her husband’s prism, political network and activities.
In a rather cryptic post on social media, Ugandan anti-ICC activist David Matsanga celebrated the fall of those who “plotted and worked with ICC prosecutor to jail the innocent”. He wrote: “ICC ghosts of 2008-11 have come back to haunt those who plotted the scheme of destroying lives of innocent Ocampo six.”
He predicted that next will be ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.