A group of MPs allied to Deputy President William Ruto had planned a press conference yesterday to dispute the elevation of Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, but abandoned it after intervention from higher authorities.
The decision to hold a briefing to counter what they perceived as an onslaught on Dr Ruto appeared to have been the build-up of disquiet among a caucus of Rift Valley lawmakers that apparently boiled over on Tuesday after the communication by President Kenyatta that Dr Matiang’i would chair a committee of all Cabinet secretaries in his role of coordinating Government projects.
The MPs expressed their anger in their WhatsApp group, interpreting the decision by the President to issue an executive order that seemed to hand more powers to Matiang’i as designed to undermine the DP.
After all-morning deliberations, the MPs cancelled the planned press conference, which was scheduled to be held at Hotel Boulevard in Nairobi following what our sources said “consultation with senior members”.
“We have been told to lie low until further instructions,” said a vocal MP from Rift in a text to one of our reporters.
He added: “We are all in agreement that there is a major problem in Government. Some of our MPs are abroad and we have been told to stay calm for now and see how things unfold.”
The conversations in the group seen by The Standard revealed the bitterness among the MPs who felt that Ruto was getting a raw deal and some even suggested that he quit the Government.
“This is bad for the DP’s political career. We cannot accept this to go on. We are witnessing something similar to what happened in 2002 when President Kibaki (Mwai) took over from Moi (Daniel),” read a message by one MP from Rift Valley.
And after several comments by MPs advising against the press conference, a senator from Rift Valley, who is a close ally of the DP, wrote informing them that the media briefing had been called off until further notice.
“We need time to consult further on the matter. We will advise accordingly,” read the message.
The WhatsApp group comprises majority of MPs and senators from Rift Valley and Mt Kenya who appear to support Ruto’s 2022 presidential bid.
An invitation to the press conference was posted in the group at 8.34am, and read: “Rift Valley politics and Uhuru succession/state of the nation affairs press conference at 11am at Hotel Boulevard today. Rift Valley MPs and those from Mt Kenya (Meru region) in attendance.”
While most of the leaders in the group said they felt that Uhuru’s decision to give Matiang’i an expanded mandate to supervise development programmes and projects was getting many reactions, they unanimously felt it was not wise to address the media on the matter at this point.
“We don’t need to show our anger and frustration over this issue. Let us give it time and consult widely before addressing the media. Sometimes silence can help,” said a legislator from the North Rift region.
Although a number of the leaders agreed that the law gave the President power to form committees to address various issues in Government, they argued it was wrong for him to do so without consulting his deputy or even having him attend the meeting with security chiefs in Mombasa.
The National Government Co-ordination Act No. 1 of 2013, Section 13 gives the president the power to establish committees.
However, Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot, who spoke to The Standard yesterday, said the work of the deputy president was enshrined in the Constitution.
“The President cannot change the Constitution, he can only respect it. This is just normal reorganisation of the Government, just like the creation of the position of Chief Administrative Secretary,” he said.
“The DP is still the principal assistant to the President. Nothing has changed. Those claiming he has been sidelined in the Executive Order are deluding themselves. The Constitution is clear about his role.
Lemanken Aramat, the Narok East MP said: “The President wants to free his deputy so that he can concentrate on the most important agenda of bringing Kenyans together. Kenyans were bitterly divided after the last General Election, so there must be somebody to work to bring unity in the country. He is not being sidelined.”
Eldama Ravine MP Moses Lessonet said the executive order was good but the missing link was that the DP should have been the one chairing the committee.
“This is like a liaison committee in Parliament, which is chaired by the Deputy Speaker. I think there was an oversight on who should be chairing it,” Mr Lessonet said.
Tinderet MP Julius Melly and his Soy colleague, Caleb Kositany, who is also Jubilee’s deputy secretary general, urged Kenyans to stop reading mischief in the directive which he said was aimed at shaping the President’s legacy.
“The elevation of Dr Matiang’i is not political. It came as a result of consultation and we support and congratulate him for his new roles. People should stop reading mischief in any step taken by the President in organising his Government,” said Mr Melly.
He claimed that the CS was appointed because of the failure of the Presidential Delivery Unit (PDU) to effectively perform its mandate.
“Matiang’i is a performer and will deliver for the Government. I worked with him as parliamentary committee chairman for education when he was CS in the ministry and I know him as a committed worker.”
Mr Kositany, too, accused the PDU of failing to execute its mandate as expected in line with President Uhuru’s development agenda, prompting the new strategy.
However, Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono was blunt, terming the order “funny”.
“Other Cabinet secretaries reporting to a fellow CS does not make sense. They should instead report to the DP or the President,” said Mr Rono.
“How do you build bridges minus Ruto, who is the DP? Opinion polls have even indicated that he is the most popular leader. If President Uhuru and ODM leader Raila Odinga mean well in the Building Bridges Initiative, they should bring Ruto on board if it is not politics. Bridges should not be broken in the process of building new ones.”
Belgut MP Nelson Koech said the President’s action was for the good of the country.
“In fact, if Dr Matiang’i and team delivers, it shall be a plus for Ruto and anybody intending to ride on the Jubilee ticket,” Mr Koech said.
Nakuru Town East MP Samuel Arama, who has in the recent past found a new hobby in praising the interior CS and urging him to go for the presidency in 2022, was elated.
“I have been telling everyone that Dr Matiang’i is destined for greater things! He is a performer and we expect to see a big difference in the management of national government projects and programmes,” Mr Arama said.
His Kuresoi South counterpart Joseph Tonui said Kenyans should not read too much in the new roles bestowed upon Interior CS.
“I think we are reading too much in this order. The Ministry of Interior and Coordination of Government Services has been at the centre of coordinating State services. What President Uhuru has done is just to streamline the co-ordination bit, and ensure that things run smoothly under the chairmanship of Dr Matiang’i,” Mr Tonui said.
Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi said he believed the expansion of Matiang’i’s mandate in the Jubilee administration could be all about efficiency in service delivery.
Mudavadi ruled out the possibility of a power or position games in Matiang’i’s surprise elevation. “I think it is all about efficiency in service delivery. It does not target anyone’s power or position in the Government,” said the former Deputy Prime Minister amid speculation that the gesture could be meant to undermine Ruto.
Lugari MP Ayub Savula said leaders allied to Ruto should not politise the re-organisation of the Government by the President.