DP Gachagua stirs controversy a month in office

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua during a live interview with KTN News at his private residence in Karen, Nairobi. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Barely one month in office, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua’s remarks have continued to spark controversy.

Gachagua who is known to speak his mind and in the process ruffle feathers, reverted to his rabble-rousing ways during an interview on Citizen TV on Sunday where he, among other things, claimed that the country's financial situation was so dire that it lacks sufficient foreign exchange reserves to import oil.

"We have insufficient foreign exchange and the Central Bank does not have enough foreign currency for importing fuel,” he said in an interview at his Wamunyoro residence in Nyeri on Sunday.

The DP claimed that the Jubilee government looted money three months before the August 9 election, leaving public coffers in a dire situation.

His sentiments, however, attracted the ire of the Central Bank which issued a statement a few hour hours later- in the stillness of the night. It refuted claims by the DP that there is a forex shortage in the country. 

CBK clarified that the foreign exchange reserves continue to provide adequate cover and a buffer against shocks in the foreign exchange market.

“First, following the complete liberalisation of the foreign exchange market in the 1990s, all foreign exchange for private transactions is obtained from commercial banks. CBK does not supply foreign exchange for transactions other than for the National Government. Second, the foreign exchange cover remains adequate,” CBK said in a statement.

 A senior official from the DP's office who sought anonymity said Gachagua was right that some banks have been hoarding forex and denied many businesses much-needed opportunity to purchase or pay for imports including fuel products 

"It is a fact that the oil marketers contracted to supply and deliver fuel products are having forex challenges with their banks. What action is CBK taking against banks making access to forex difficult or making it more costly? That's what CBK should be telling us not delivering Economics lectures on Twitter," said the senior official.

He claimed that the CBK Governor Patrick Njoroge is aware of the situation and he stated so during the induction of members of the National Assembly at Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi. "What has CBK as the banking regulator done to control, manage, and discipline banks that are causing Forex challenges?" Posed the official at the DP's office.

During the interview on Citizen TV, Gachagua further claimed that court cases dogging Agriculture Cabinet Secretary-designate Mithika Linturi and his Gender and Public Service counterpart Aisha Jumwa were “malicious” and “fabricated.”

“The cases that Mithika Linturi and Aisha Jumwa have in court are malicious. We will not deny anyone a chance to contribute to Kenya’s development because they have a fabricated case (by the former regime),” he said.

Linturi is facing rape and hate speech charges in court while Jumwa is contending with a murder case.

And in a rejoinder yesterday, the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary-designate welcomed the remarks of the DP on the court cases saying he would soon be vindicated.

“...It’s well known by Kenyans that I was persecuted by the former regime, especially because of my political association with President William Ruto. I’m sure I’ll be vindicated by the courts. All the allegations were politically instigated in a bid to intimidate some of us and the DCI was unfortunately used to achieve this evil mission,” said Linturi.

On Monday, the State dropped rape case against Linturi after the complainant withdrew the matter

This is however not the first time that the DP has stirred the pot with his remarks. A week ago, he kicked off a storm after he reportedly told farmers in Baringo that Kenya Kwanza will bring back the controversial “Shamba system” that allowed Kenyans to farm inside forests.

It was a form of agroforestry that encouraged farmers to plant trees alongside crops.

“On the issue of the forest, there was a Cabinet Secretary who came and barred everything. You cannot even collect decayed leaves or logs for cooking. You fail to understand his thinking,” Gachagua allegedly said.

His sentiments would elicit mixed reactions with a section of the public applauding him while forest and environmental activists condemned him.

Three days later, the DP claimed he was misquoted and that he meant that the government will work with farmers to plant and nurture trees as they tend to their crops in the forest reserves.

He said the government will partner with farmers to plant trees on bare forest lands as farming continues.

“When I was in Baringo, I announced to the people of Kenya that we have a serious problem with afforestation. There is a lot of land within the forest reserves that have been earmarked for tree planting,” he said.

"We are going to mobilise farmers to assist us to plant new trees in those areas that have no trees and take care of them as they farm and the forest can continue growing.”

A brazen Gachagua took on former President Uhuru Kenyatta during his (Gachagua’s) swearing-in ceremony last month.

Paying no mind to the visiting Heads of State and government and other dignitaries, at the Moi Sports Centre Kasarani in Nairobi, the DP revisited what he termed as persecution that he and President Ruto allegedly went through at the hands of State operatives.

He told guests of the onslaught meted against them due to their political stand all the while delivering a chilling speech that was praised and loathed in equal measure in days that followed.

“Freedom is here with us I want to tell Kenyans that you are finally free and we are finally a democratic country, it became a crime in this country to become a friend of William Ruto it is only that it was not put in the penal code, from today I want to tell Kenyans that you are free and from now you don’t have to talk on WhatsApp for fear of not being recorded by state agencies,” said Gachagua.

And while on the campaign trail ahead of the August 9 General Election, the DP on several occasions became an easy target for Azimio la Umoja One Kenya members thanks to his controversial statements.

His views on telecommunication giant Safaricom PLC, for instance, put him on the spot.  

“Kenya Kwanza will grow the enterprises of small business people who constitute the majority instead of having giant corporates like Safaricom paying taxes, you can have such a company’s investment and create many smaller companies that will pay taxes."

“…So we are not chasing big corporates. We are saying that even small and medium investors be taken care of,” he said during an interview on Inooro FM.

His sentiments were however taken by some to mean the Kenya Kwanza Alliance would crack down on investors once in power.

He would again hit the headlines after proposing a rice and meat party at Sagana State Lodge.

While addressing the public during the burial of his brother, James Rerani, Gachagua urged Ruto to follow in the footsteps of former President Moi by leaving the doors of the State lodge open to Nyeri residents to visit and throw a big thanksgiving party.

“Let us slaughter 35 bulls and cook copious amounts of rice to go with the beef. Our people don’t want anything else. This is what used to happen during the Moi era,” he urged Ruto.

His political competitors were quick to weigh on the matter and ridiculed him that instead of seeking meaningful development all Gachagua could ask for was rice, meat and a party at a time when his then Martha Karua was wooing voters “with a meaningful agenda.”