Uhuru’s legacy or loyalty: Why key appointments matter now

President Uhuru Kenyatta at a past event. (File, Standard)

If recent nominations to the National Land Commission are instructive, it is fast becoming the norm rather than the exception for the President to appoint close political allies to government positions.

And as President Uhuru Kenyatta’s tenure at State House enters its final years, the Head of State is facing the tough choice of balancing between nominees who will build a legacy and those who share his political and ideological affinity as he looks to smooth out his transition from power.

Controversy surrounds Uhuru’s picks to the NLC, especially after it emerged that among those nominated are his lawyer and three former politicians.

The President has nominated Gershom Otachi, who was part of his defence team at The Hague, former Cabinet Secretary Kazungu Kambi as well as former legislators Tiya Galgalo and Esther Murugi to the lands commission.

Other nominees are Prof James Tuitoek, Reginald Okumu, Hubbie Hussein, Getrude Nduku and Alister Mutugi.

There have been a number of intrigues in the selection of the new NLC members, specifically the shortlisting of former KRA Commissioner General John Njiriani and his consequent withdrawal from consideration.

While the President’s decision to nominate his lawyer Otachi is not illegal, it informs of the far the executive is prepared to go to have a control in the formulation and implementation of land policies.

But Nyeri County Assembly Speaker John Kaguchia defends the nomination of politicians to independent offices, insisting that it does not suggest patronage.

“Get the most qualified person whether they are politicians or not, then ensure institutions are working independently and it will not matter who holds the seat,” he said.

Busy month

September will be busy for the President as he will be expected to fill vacancies at the Auditor General’s and Controller of Budget’s offices and the National Intelligence Service (NIS).

President Kenyatta is largely expected to renew the term for NIS Director General, Maj Gen (Rtd) Philip Kameru. He is liable for a contract renewal.

The NIS is strategic for the role it plays in maintaining national security and informing both foreign and domestic policy.

Kameru’s predecessor, Maj Gen Michael Gichangi, resigned from office in August 2014, slightly over a year after the Jubilee government took over power.

While he cited personal reasons for his sudden departure, opinion was divided on the exact reason he stepped down, with suggestions that he could have been pushed out.

It is instructive that Gichangi’s term was extended in 2011, just two years before President Kibaki retired from office. A similar scenario is unfolding right now.

Chief of Defence Forces Gen Samson Mwathethe’s term also expires next year after the one-year extension offered in May.

Kenya is also shopping for a new Auditor General and Controller of Budget after the pair’s eight-year non-renewable terms ended this week.

Auditor General Edward Ouko and Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo were appointed in August 2011.

Thorn in flesh

Ms Odhiambo bid farewell to the staff in her office earlier in a ceremony at Crowne Plaza Hotel and was succeeded by her deputy Stephen Masha, on an acting capacity for 90 days.

The Controller of Budget’s office has been the bane of many governors’ existence, with the county chiefs complaining that the office was a restraint on their development agenda.

Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi once claimed he could not even procure a pen for his office without the approval of the COB or without the office raining on the counties’ parade by reporting on how the devolved units were utilising their budgets.

Ouko too has been a thorn in their flesh, with his damning reports indicting the government for misappropriation and wastage of funds and his exit will serve good riddance for the Jubilee administration.

The Office of the President has declared Ouko’s office vacant and invited applications from those interested.

This comes as Ouko complained about a vacuum in the office as a result of the government dragging its feet in nominating a replacement.

“This is not like a political seat where the speaker has to declare a seat vacant for a by-election to start,” he said. “There has to be a substantive office holder to sign the ongoing compilation of reports for them to be legally binding.”

The Auditor General has been labelled as an Opposition wing for his queries over the expenditure of the proceeds from the Sh280 billion Eurobond in 2016.

He came under fire for that investigation and it bore campaigns to remove him from office, first through Parliament then through the courts.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) in 2017 recommended the prosecution of Ouko and his former deputy Stephen Kinuthia for their role in the procurement of Sh100 million Audit Vault software.

In another attempt at his office, a petition seeking for his removal was filed in Parliament by lawyer Emmanuel Mwagambo Mwagonah.

Ouko, in an exit interview on Tuesday, defended President Kenyatta against the comments he made discrediting the office, insisting that off the cuff remarks do not influence independence.

“The remark from the President was not an attack on the independence of the office, he was just making a comment from his point of view,” Ouko said.

In the National Police Service, Deputy Inspector General of Police Edward Mbugua is expected to retire next month after attaining the age of 60.