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Why they had to shove Ruto aside

By | October 20th 2010

By Wahome Thuku

Higher Education minister Willam Ruto’s political career has hit a spin after he was suspended from the Cabinet, pending the determination of a criminal case against him.

East African Community minister Hellen Sambili will double up as acting Higher Education minister.

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga bowed to pressure and suspended Ruto over a Sh96 million fraud case.

In a statement released last evening, the two principals said they suspended Ruto, pending the hearing and determination of the case, which has been pending since 2004.

Eldoret North MP William Ruto

It was not clear, however, if Ruto’s pay would also be halved as required by law, though he is still entitled to his full allowances. It also remains to be seen how one of the most talked about politicians will deal with what looks like a major dent on his political ambition, coming at a time he is fighting a myriad battles.

Other than his battles with Raila in ODM, Ruto has also been fighting to have his name removed from a Kenya National Human Rights and Equality Commission report, on the 2007

Post - election violence.

Section 62 (1) of the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act 2003, which President Kibaki used to suspend Ruto, states:

"A public officer who is charged with corruption or economic crime shall be suspended at half pay, with effect from the date of the charge." It adds that the officer "ceases to be suspended if the proceedings against him are discontinued or if he is acquitted". A previous attempt by the Prime Minister to suspend Ruto over a maize scandal when he was Agriculture min-ister fell flat, after the President quickly reinstated him, saying he had not been consulted.

Under the National Accord that established the Grand Coalition Government, the two are supposed to consult on the suspension or sacking of ministers, although the appointing authority remains the President. At the time, Ruto was seen as an ace in Kibaki’s efforts to ‘tame’ Raila, given the Eldoret North’s perceived political clout in the Kalenjin-dominated sections of the Rift Valley.

This is why the action yesterday will undoubtedly be interpreted by most analysts as coming a little too late, since the fraud case against Ruto was instituted in 2004.

But Kibaki’s hand, more than Raila’s, was forced by the need to recast the image of the Government that has been tainted by recent events.

Fraud Case

Apart from the International Criminal Court being on the trail of three ministers over the 2007 post-election violence, an example had been set by the suspension of Assistant Minister, Wilfred Machage, and the overriding need to show that no member of Cabinet is above the new laws, after Ruto dismissed the ruling of the High Court that he stand trial.

For Raila, it was yet another chance to set his ODM house in order by promoting a Rift Valley moderate in Prof Sambili, who is not even from his party. Gichugu MP and Narc-Kenya chair Martha Karua clashed with Raila in Parliament recently when she accused the Government of harbouring ministers facing criminal charges, and named Ruto as one of those who should be fired.

Raila’s response was that Ruto had petitioned the High Court over the case in 2005, and a ruling was yet to be made. That ruling came last week when a three-judge Bench ruled that Ruto must stand trial for the alleged fraud, to which Ruto’s response was the now familiar, "I will not resign". He claimed his political foes were using the case to destroy his presidential ambition in 2012. He told the court the case was a violation of his fundamental rights, an argument the judges dismissed.

In the case, Ruto and four other persons were charged with defrauding the Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) of Sh96 million by purporting to sell the oil transporter land belonging to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

He is accused of having obtained the money between August 6 and September 6, 2001. The application, which had been pending at the High Court since 2005 had become a reference case for delay of court cases involving senior personalities.

Pressure had been building for President Kibaki and PM Raila to sack Ruto. Lawyer Paul Muite told The Standard last week that, Ruto should resign "as a matter of principle", but at the end of the day, only Kibaki could sack him. It is alleged that Ruto fraudulently obtained the money from a former Kenya Pipeline Company manager Hellen Njue; by pretending he was in a position to sell land in Ngong Forest to the Kenya Pipeline. "There is no proof that the applicant’s rights have been violated or breached in any way. For that reason we are unable to grant any prayers sought and send back the case to the trial court for hearing and determination,’’ ruled judges Jeanne Gacheche, Roselyn Wendo, and Leonard Njagi. The judges dismissed the minister’s claims that the case was instituted against him to finish him politically, saying this cannot be justified just "because he is an MP and a Cabinet minister".

A day after the judgement, Ruto told the Press he would not resign. He maintained he was innocent on the transaction involving 100 acres of land.

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