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Kimemia: Career civil servant draws mixed feelings as he takes oath of office

By GEOFFREY MOSOKU and CYRUS OMBATI

NAIROBI; KENYA: Mr Francis Kimemia, who takes oath of office today as Kenya’s first Cabinet Secretary under the new Constitution, is loathed and respected in almost equal measure.

During the last two years of the defunct Grand Coalition Government, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga saw Kimemia as President Kibaki’s hatchet man.

Top guns in the party saw his hand everywhere; from the row over Kibaki’s appointment of county commissioners in defiance of a High Court ruling, to the boardroom wars in the National Hospital Insurance Fund that pitted him against former Minister for Medical Services Peter Anyang Nyong’o.

ODM leaders close to the former PM believed Kimemia went out of his way to frustrate the now defunct Office of the Prime Minister.

But the loathing for the career civil servant was not just coming from within ODM. As Kenya headed towards the March 4 elections, there were many within the Jubilee coalition that were and still are uneasy with him, casting him in the role of an opportunist who benefited from former President Kibaki’s “hands off” style of management.

The decision by President Kenyatta to retain Kimemia in his Government is puzzling. In many ways, Kimemia represents the last of the powerful Heads of the Civil Service who, while working from Harambee House, had immense influence over the civil service and government agencies.

Clout reduced

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But Kimemia’s once feared clout has been immensely reduced by the new Constitution, which has done away with the post of Head of the Civil Service. His role is now limited to Cabinet matters.

When President Kenyatta did not forward his name to Parliament for approval, along with the initial 16 Cabinet Secretary nominees who were picked piecemeal, some within Jubilee believed Kimemia’s days in Government were numbered.

But reliable sources within the Government who asked not to be named told The Standard President Kenyatta chose to retain Kimemia largely for purposes of “continuity” and to ensure a smooth transition and minimal disruption.

Serious integrity questions were raised against Kimemia during his vetting by Parliament’s Committee on Administration and National Security two weeks ago.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption raised questions and allegations of abuse of office against the long serving civil servant, but the committee, dominated by Jubilee legislators ensured Kimemia weathered the storm.

The parliamentary committee recommended that the National Assembly approve Kimemia’s nomination and subsequent appointment to the post.

The chairman Asman Kamama said investigations by the EACC against Kimemia were at a preliminary stage and therefore it was difficult for the committee to draw conclusions.

“The EACC letter was based on initial suspicion of Mr Kimemia having been involved in the blocking of the suspension of the KAA (Kenya Airports Authority) MD, and the PS, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for their mishandling of the JKIA Greenfield Terminal Project, and in the purchase of the Tokyo property, respectively,” said the report.

The committee’s report credited Kimemia with playing a role in major reforms in the civil service including the police and performance contracting in Government.

“The candidate exhibited impressive knowledge of topical issues especially those touching on public service. He was keen in making positive proposals on how to move the country forward. Kimemia has never been implicated in any known scandal during his official capacity,” it added.

A shrewd player, Kimemia appears to have used his strong networks in political circles developed over time when he was Permanent Secretary for Internal Security, and later Head of the Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet.

Apportioning blame

He was the only member of the Cabinet vetted twice after he appeared again before the Committee on Administration and National Security last week.

Curiously, during the vetting a section of civil society curiously called a press conference to support Kimemia.

During the recent campaigns, and just before the March 4 elections, Raila Odinga, the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD) presidential candidate, and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka accused Kimemia of favouring the then Jubilee their rivals Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto.

But Kenyatta dismissed the claims as a scheme by CORD and civil society to use “politics of propaganda, incitement and apportioning blame” to attack his campaigns.

“All these claims are part of a wider scheme of propaganda by our competitors and civil society groups. They want to destroy our country as happened in 2007. We know who is funding them. The ultimate aim is anyone’s guess. It is aimed at destabilizing the country,” said Kenyatta during a meeting with Muslim leaders at the Sir Ali Sports Club in Ngara.

When Mutunga received a poison pen letter, Raila and Kalonzo alleged death threats against the CJ were part of a wider scheme to manipulate the elections.

“We all know CJ Mutunga as a man who has seen the rough side of our politics. We trust that he can tell the signs of the times when he sees them. His alarm, therefore, needs to be taken very, very seriously,” Mr Musyoka said.

And Ms Martha Karua, the Narc Kenya presidential flag bearer said: “We will not allow anybody to interfere with the affairs of the Judiciary. We want Mr Kimemia to record a statement on the alleged death threats and harassment at the airport and those found guilty to be arrested and arraigned in court.”

Stop propaganda

But Kenyatta was not amused and lashed out saying: “All these claims on the threats, on (Francis) Kimemia and public servants is propaganda. Our competitors should let public servants do their work. We’re not interested in Kimemia. We are not interested in public servants. We must stop propaganda if Kenya has to develop as a country.”

He added: “Ask them (CORD) where it has all suddenly come from.”

Things got more ugly after an immigration clerk allegedly tried to stop Chief Justice Willy Mutunga from travelling out of the country through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

It later emerged that Kimemia had issued a circular that required civil servants travelling abroad to first seek approval from his office.

In the ensuing furore, the PM called for Kimemia to resign.

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