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Return to old order: Ruto's bid to amass political clout ahead of re-election battle

 President William Ruto during the National Youth Service recruits passing out parade at NYS paramilitary Academy, Gillgil Nakuru County on December 8, 2023. [PCS]

A series of proposed laws to Parliament by President William Ruto that seek to alter governance structure point at an attempt by the Head of State to steer the country back to the old order.

The recent tabling of a Bill that seeks to establish and define the role of Chief Administrative Secretaries (CASs), after the positions were declared unconstitutional by the court, the re-introduction of the Head of Public Service and the backing of a report by the National Dialogue Committee for the re-introduction of official opposition leader, are the clearest indications yet that Ruto is keen on running the country under the old order.

“The president seems to have taken a cue from his political mentor former President Daniel Moi and is intent on returning the country to the old ways of unquestionable authority,” says Prof Macharia Munene, a university lecturer and political analyst.

As part of his 2027 re-election strategy, Ruto's man at the National Assembly, Leader of Majority Kimani Ichung'wah earlier this week introduced the National Government Administration Laws (Amendment) Bill 2023 which seeks to anchor in law the CAS positions by making various amendments to four Acts and which also clearly sets out the appointment process; from the recommendation of nominees by the Public Service Commission to the president to approval by the National Assembly.

For one to be eligible to be nominated as a CAS, he or she must possess a bachelor's degree, have public service experience, and meet the requirements of Chapter Six of the Constitution.

One is however unfit for nomination if one is convicted of an offence for six months without the option of a fine, is bankrupt, is the holder of a political party position, a Member of Parliament, or a public or State officer, and if the individual has been impeached.

According to the Bill, the CAS will represent the CS at any meeting as directed by the CS and perform any other duties assigned by the Attorney General or CS, will respond to issues relating to their portfolio, liaise with Parliament and county governments and provide inter-ministerial and sectoral coordination. 

Governance Expert Tom Mboya believes that had President Ruto supported the current constitution in 2010 he would not have embarked on the route he is seeming to take.

"I think it is instructive to note that Ruto did not support the Constitution of Kenya 2010, & in the referendum actively campaigned against it," said Mboya.

"He clearly has his own ideas about the constitutional order he would like to see, which he is well entitled to. Ultimately, Kenyans will either have an opportunity to evaluate any proposed changes to the Constitution or will do so at the next election," he added.

Declared unconstitutional

The Bill comes just months after the courts declared the positions unconstitutional and is seen as an attempt by Ruto to avoid a duel in the appellate court and circumvent the ruling which was arrived at following a petition by the Law Society of Kenya and Katiba Institute.

Katiba Institute litigation counsel Lempaa Suyianka said, "All these laws and proposals are unconstitutional and I am sure they will be passed by Parliament. Let them pass them and the CAS proceed to enjoy their salaries then we and hopefully with the Law Society of Kenya move to court to have them halted."

He added, "The courts are doing well in this country unlike Parliament where some members are incompetent and can only distribute bursaries and we are sure at the end of the day justice will prevail. "

Interestingly, the CAS positions were initially created by former President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2018 and are akin to the assistant minister positions under the old constitution who also performed similar tasks but whose appointment did not need a nod from Parliament.

This, then, ensured that they remained loyal to the president which was the only requirement for them to remain in office.

Prof Munene now avers that the creation of the CAS positions is crucial in Ruto’s 2027 matrix and are key in ensuring that Ruto is seen as a president who accommodates people from regions that did not vote for him in the August 2022 polls.

“He (Ruto) promised appointments to political cronies and the CAS positions would help him keep his word. Should the recent proposals currently before parliament however flop, he will simply reinvent himself and shift the blame to others,” stated Munene.

Ruto’s allies have however defended the need for the CASs, saying they are key cogs in ensuring that the current administration achieves its mandate.

Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, a close ally of Ruto since he was deputy president, sees no harm in another layer in the structure of government 

"The reasoning behind having CASs was to free up some time for the CS and PS to do their job... Much of the work you do is thinking. If you don’t get time to think, then you will end up being a marionate…you will be so busy doing a lot of many things, but the output may not be seen," said Nyoro.

There is also a proposal by the recently launched and Ruto-backed National Dialogue Committee (NADCO) report for the establishment of the Office of the Official Opposition Leader- an office which dwelled in the old political dispensation, but which was scrapped through the implementation of the 2010 constitution. In its place, the office of the minority leader was introduced in Parliament.

According to the report from the task force co-chaired by National Assembly Majority leader Kimani Ichung'wah and Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, a plebiscite is required to amend Article 260 of the Constitution and pave the way for the creation of the office.

Its holder will be the leader of the largest party/ coalition of political parties that garnered the second-greatest number of votes in the immediately preceding presidential elections and he or she will have two deputies.

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