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Leaders fault President Uhuru’s handling of ongoing teachers strike

By Nzau Musau | September 27th 2015
President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the United Nations Summit for the Adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda during the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s handling of the ongoing teachers strike has exposed the soft underbelly of his leadership credentials when faced with complex issues of national concern.

Critics are now questioning his ability and resolve to guide the country through turbulent times. CORD leader Raila Odinga, says the chickens have come home to roost for Kenyans for electing his former deputy in the coalition government.

At the heart of the concerns is the President’s failure to meet or dialogue with striking teachers union officials, disregard for court orders, delayed and casual approach to a matter that concerns a critical mass of the Kenyan population and misplaced priorities betrayed by his flight-out-of-the country in the midst of national crisis.

“The point we have been making these last two years about the leadership deficit in government has arrived at our doorsteps with a bang,” Raila says in a bare-knuckle commentary published elsewhere in this paper.

According to the former Prime Minister, “disregard for the law, coupled with governance through deliberate distortions are manifestations of failed leadership.”

Last Sunday, the President dashed the hopes of an expectant nation through an address which, many say, escalated the situation rather than mitigate it.

The speech, widely anticipated across the country, reflected his “can’t pay won’t pay” pronouncement a few days earlier. It dimmed hopes of the strike ending soon as teachers seized the opportunity to dig in.

The “can’t pa, won’t pay” policy would later be reprimanded by Labour Relations Court judge Nelson Abuodha on Friday when he committed the government and teachers and government to fresh negotiations.

“The government has categorically stated that it won’t pay and can’t pay. This is not the approach that can be adopted by the government and at the same time rush to the court to seek orders,” the judge said.

Although the government refused to honor the pay order, it was the first to act on Justice Abuodha’s order on Friday by re-reviewing the term dates and ordering schools to re-open tomorrow. “We are watching to see how he deals with his own dishonesty and selective application of the law now that the courts have asked teachers to abandon the strike,” Raila said yesterday. According to the Law Society of Kenya chairman Eric Mutua, the government and the President have disappointed many Kenyans through the manner they have addressed the whole matter. He says the approach was warped from the day the pronouncements of “can’t pay won’t pay” were made.

The televised national address to the nation was also unnecessary because appealing to the emotions of the public and the teachers was not going to help anything. “The correct procedure ought to have been for the President to instruct the Attorney General to go back to the courts and explain to the courts on precisely why the government cannot pay the award.”

Rule by arrogance

“To pronounce that you cannot pay one more cent out there and still rely on the same courts on other orders shows you do not respect the law when it does not suit you. Remember the President has sworn to defend the Constitution and rule of law,” Mr Mutua said yesterday.

Chair of Commission on Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) Charles Nyachae warns against the vanity of disrespecting court orders in the present day and age. Lack of money is a different matter altogether, he says.

“At the end of the day, court orders must be implemented. As it has come to pass, through the court, a framework within which all these matters can be resolved has been afforded to both the government and the teachers. There is no wisdom in disregarding courts,” Mr Nyachae said.

Secretary General of Wiper Democratic Movement and Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar Hassan says the President’s “mishandling” of teachers pay dispute has placed serious doubts on his avowed motives for seeking the presidency. Mr Omar says the President has ignored calls to sit down with teacher’s representatives because he has no proper grounds to deny their demands.

“That is why he believes he requires only arrogance to get out of this. He has no face to deal with teachers face to face. Which President, in this day and age, refuses to negotiate with section of his constituent and instead calls a national conference to tell them off before flying out of the country?” he posed.

The senator said the least the Kenyatta could have done before flying out was to meet teachers unions officials, explain to them his side of the story and commit them into talks with credible government officials to settle the matter.

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