President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga have tightened their grip on five parliamentary committees crucial for constitutional reforms and approval of Cabinet appointments.
The two party leaders packed the committees with their loyalists, completing a purge that saw allies of Deputy President William Ruto moved to less influential ones.
Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC), Committee on Appointments, Budget and Appropriations, Finance and Delegated Legislation play important roles in the envisaged reforms the two leaders seek under the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
And the anticipated Cabinet and Principal Secretary appointments to cement agreements the Jubilee Party struck with opposition outfits including Kanu, Wiper, Chama Cha Mashinani, as well as another envisaged with ODM, explains the reconstitution of the committee that vets the nominees.
The Budget committee that reviews estimates and makes recommendations to the House is key in approval of resources, for instance, to conduct a referendum, as well as channel funds to projects to help implement BBI recommendations.
The legal committee will be instrumental in processing Bills to amend the Constitution. Yesterday, allies of the two leaders bulldozed the changes, ensuring pro-BBI lawmakers take charge.
The leadership and membership of four of the committees was previously in the control of MPs allied to Ruto and who are accused of fighting the BBI project. BBI arose from Uhuru and Raila’s surprise truce following the disputed 2017 presidential election. They shook hands on March 9, 2018. The Kieleweke camp comprising supporters of Uhuru and Raila has since tipped MP Muturi Kigano (Kangema) to chair JLAC, Kanini Kega (Kieni) to chair Budget, Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay) to chair Finance and William Kamket of Tiaty to chair Delegated Legislation. Committee on Appointment is chaired by Speaker Justin Muturi. Muturi and the four MPs set to take up the leadership of the committees are all allied to Uhuru and Raila. The committees are set to hold elections for chairperson and vice chairperson positions today and tomorrow.
With talks of a possible Cabinet reshuffle to accommodate allies of Raila, the pro-BBI team staged a ruthless purge against Ruto allies in the Committee on Appointments. Uhuru is said to be planning to kick out part of his Cabinet.
The purge to have a compliant team started with the kicking out of Aden Duale as Majority Leader, Benjamin Washiali as Whip and Cecily Mbarire who was Deputy Whip. They all sat in the committee by virtue of their leadership positions.
Others kicked out in the changes adopted yesterday include MPs Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu), Edward Kaunya (Teso North), Lilian Tomitom (West Pokot) and David Pkosing of Pokot South.
Their places have been taken up by Majority Leader Amos Kimunya (Kipipiri), Majority Whip Emmanuel Wangwe (Navakholo), Minority Whip Junet Mohamed (Suna East), Mercy Gakuya (Kasarani), Alfred Keter (Nandi), Joshua Kimilu (Kaiti) and Kega. All the new members are backers of the handshake.
In JLAC – which was previously under a strong grip of Ruto allies led by William Cheptumo (chair) and Alice Wahome (vice chair) – Kigano and Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo are tipped to take up the leadership slots. Those kicked out include handshake critics Cheptumo, Wahome, Gladys Shollei, Johana Ngeno and Charles Gimose. Others removed from the committee are MPs Ben Momanyi (Borabu) and Beatrice Adagala of Vihiga.
Their seats have been effectively taken up by Uhuru and Raila allies, among them Wangwe, Naisula Lesuuda (Samburu West) and Gichugu’s Robert Githinji. In the Budget committee, Ichung’wa was dethroned as chairperson while Kuria (Gatundu South) and James Gakuya (Embakasi North) were also kicked out and their places taken by Kega, Samuel Atandi (Alego Usonga) and Alfred Keter of Nandi.
Yesterday, National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi bullishly said they were not ready to entertain individuals hell-bent on sabotaging the envisaged BBI reforms. Mbadi declared they had to be ruthless in taking charge of the committees.
“JLAC is the committee that will deal with BBI. We have to make it compliant to ensure the reforms we want sail through. We don’t want members who are going to negatively politicise the process and sabotage it at the committee level,” said Mbadi.
“A committee like Budget is also important because it is responsible for resource allocation,” the ODM chairman added.
Mbadi said although they are not sure of a Cabinet reshuffle, they would want a team that will not “try to cause interference” in the event Uhuru makes changes in government.
Another top House official from the Jubilee side shared similar sentiments. He said they have to put the right people in key positions to push the handshake agenda in Parliament.
Next big thing
“We are headed for a crucial moment where these committees will be key in pushing the agenda. You meed the right people there. For the BBI to sail through, we need the right people,” said the official. “BBI is the next big thing and the theatre will be in the House. You should have the right people to succeed. The president has an agenda and some people also have theirs. We have to be firm and sober to help the president, who is now the driver,” he added. At the same time, Kimunya and Junet warned members against campaigning for the 29 leadership positions that fell vacant following the de-whipping of Ruto allies.
They said the party leaders had settled on the members to take up the slots, and it would be a waste of time and resources for any one to lobby without consulting the parties’ leadership. “These changes will result into 29 vacancies and there will be elections for the slots. I will also share the proposed names by the party leaders. Before you embark on campaigns, you need to consult with your whips,” said Kimunya.
Ruto allies led by MPs Caleb Kositany (Soy), Cornelly Serem (Aldai) and Didmus Barasa (Kimilili) said it was unfortunate that the Kieleweke camp was trying to push the BBI agenda through the committees. The MPs said the full House will still have a say on the intended changes and could shoot them down if they do not capture the “aspiration of Kenyans”.
“The changes are being pushed by people who don’t want us to have a discussion about the BBI report,” said Kositany, who is also the Jubilee Party Deputy Secretary General.
“I don’t think they will succeed because such changes will have to pass through the plenary, and if it requires two-thirds, I don’t think they will succeed,” he added.
He claimed that ODM had succeeded in arm-twisting Uhuru to take charge of the committees that are supposed to be chaired by the majority side. “Sadly, ODM is now running the Jubilee government. They have succeeded in their demands on committees. I don’t think Mbadi should continue benefiting as the Leader of the Minority side,” Kositany charged.
Serem said that even if they populated the committees with “yes men and women,” the House will still have to make a decision on the BBI document.
“It is not easy as they think to carry out constitutional reforms using committees. Even if they succeed in passing the Bills at the committee level, the House will still have to debate them,” Serem said.
In the House, some members protested that their colleagues were placed in more committees against the set threshold.
Kiminini MP Chris Wamalwa took issues with Ford Kenya’s Eseli Simiyu (Tongaren) for “allocating himself” four committees on top of Deputy Minority Whip slot. Eseli is a member of Public Accounts Committee, Health, Committee on Selection and Committee on Appointments. “Since he is in leadership, he should be in one committee. He has allocated himself committees and forgot to push for the interest of Ford Kenya members,” said Wamalwa.
Junet, who is also the Minority Whip, is in PAC, Committee on Selection, JLAC and Committee on Appointments.
-Additional reporting by Cyrus Ombati