Cheruiyot talks political journey, achievements and Senate life

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot got elected as Kericho Senator at the age of 30 years in 2016 following a by election occasioned by the appointment of his predecessor Charles Keter by former President Uhuru Kenyatta to serve as the Energy Cabinet Secretary.

Cheruiyot has gone ahead to be re-elected twice and is now serving his third term in office and is currently pushing the President’s agenda in the Senate. He spoke to The Standard about his political journey saying that if he was not a politician he would be a journalist.

Kenya Kwanza Alliance came to office with many promises, are you optimistic President William Ruto will deliver to Kenyans?

President William Ruto has performed exceptionally well in the 15 months he has been in office. Regardless, Kenyans tend to complain, a reaction anticipated given the challenging global economic conditions.

Late President Mwai Kibaki faced a tough first year in office, yet by the end of his two terms, he had set a commendable pace for the country’s economic development.

It’s essential to remember that Kenya imports key products like oil and sugar, and the prices of these imports are beyond our control. I believe we are on the right track toward the prosperity of our country.

You are serving your third term as the Kericho Senator. What is the trick you have used to get elected not once but three times?

I attribute my election to serve the people of Kericho as their Senator for three terms to the grace of God and dedication to my responsibilities, which has enabled me to earn the trust of my county residents.

During my first term in office, I served in the Senate with leaders I admired while growing up, such as the late GG Kariuki, former Laikipia Senator, the late Yusuf Haji, and former Busia Senator Amos Wako. I learned a lot from them. I am still learning and look forward to serving the people of Kericho and the country at large.

You were a member of the National Dialogue Committee; did the team meet its objectives?

I served on the National Dialogue Committee as one of the representatives of the Kenya Kwanza Alliance. The team successfully brought the country together following the crisis that ensued after the opposition organised demonstrations to dispute the election of President Ruto in August 2022.

Initially, members representing the government side and the opposition side found it challenging to engage each other due to mutual suspicions.

However, as time passed, we were able to discuss various issues, agreeing that the country was more significant than any one of us. We realised managing the political risks was crucial. When Parliament reconvenes in February after the long recess, we will begin implementing the recommendations made by the team.

What is your wish for the Senate, and what have you learned while there?

My wish is that all bills pass through the Senate, as the upper house tends to examine issues objectively in a non-partisan way. Reaching the magical number 24 in the Senate to pass various legislations is not easy. Out of the 47 delegations, each county will typically want to ensure their interests are safeguarded before they approve them. I look forward to the day when the Senate will be the ultimate upper house, just like its counterparts in other jurisdictions.

What are your major achievements as the Senate Majority Leader in 2023?

The passage of the four Health bills aimed at ensuring the country actualises Universal Health care was the most challenging task. The four bills will ensure every Kenyan can access quality medical care, a service that has not been easy for the majority of Kenyans.

I lobbied my colleagues to pass the Social Health Insurance Bill 2023, Digital Health Bill 2023, the Facilities Improvement Financing Bill 2023, and the Primary Health Care Bill while we were in Turkana for the Senate Mashinani sitting. The Social Health Insurance Bill will ensure every Kenyan is registered with the Social Health Insurance Fund and can benefit from comprehensive health care.

The Digital Health Bill will provide a framework for the provision of Digital Health services and establish a comprehensive integrated digital health management system. The Facility Improvement Financing Bill allows the management of public health facilities to retain all the money they raise or receive for improving services and facilities across the country, which has not happened in the past.

The Primary Health Care Bill champions the provision of health care at the community level with the help of community health volunteers, seeking to create a framework for the delivery and access to the management of primary healthcare. This time around, we must try our level best to ensure that Universal Health Care is implemented; we have heard this conversation for too long since 2009.

How do you rate the current Cabinet Secretaries?

The decision to have Cabinet Secretaries appear before the Senate and National Assembly to answer questions is a good idea since it holds them accountable. However, it is too early to judge any CS as having performed well or not. The best time to judge them is when they will have completed at least two years in office. 

You are a close ally of the President; how can you describe him?

I met the President for the first time when I clinched the Jubilee Party ticket to contest in the Kericho Senatorial seat in 2016 when my predecessor Senator Charles Keter was appointed to serve in the cabinet.

He is a great leader whom I greatly admire for his dedication to serve Kenyans since he was elected as the Eldoret North MP in 1997. It takes a great leader to do what the President is doing to turn around the country’s economy. 

There have been claims that the Senate is an appendage of the Executive; is it true?

That is not true at all; the Senate has distinguished itself in looking at issues objectively. Most Senate work is done through its various committees. Senators have done exemplary well in ensuring the national and county governments do what is expected of them.

Ninety per cent of the bills brought in from the government printer are worked on by the Senate, and by the end of the day, they look improved when tabled before the House for discussion before they are passed, which shows the House is independent from the executive.

There were leadership wrangles in your county, and you played a role in solving them; tell us how.

There were some leadership wrangles between the Kericho Governor and his Deputy, and among MCAs. Lawmakers in the county played a huge role in ending these wrangles, with the Deputy President hosting MCAs in his office to help them sort out their differences.

I am happy that the Governor, his Deputy, and MCAs are working for the good of the county residents. I was concerned that the leadership feuds would affect service delivery in my county, which has huge potential for success.

If you were not a politician, what could you be doing?

If I were not a politician, I could be working as a journalist, having graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Languages and Literary Studies from Moi University.

What lesson have you learned in politics?

When you believe in something, you should not be apologetic about it.