President William Ruto has only been in office for seven months, a period within which several of his decisions have sparked controversy, amid accusations of going back on certain campaign promises.
This past week has, perhaps, been the most controversial. On Tuesday, his Cabinet approved a Bill that would allow the Executive to bypass Parliament in the sale of State corporations, igniting fury from the Opposition and other stakeholders.
Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition party has termed the move illegal, alleging a plot by State officials to seize property owned by parastatals and other corporations.
Ruto would also be on the spot for the Sh802m budget for motor vehicles meant for the three top officials in the Executive. Then came the appointment of 50 Chief Administrative Secretaries (CASs) and revelations of their hefty financial perks.
The President’s week began with criticism over the force with which police handled opposition demonstrators on Monday, leading to the deaths of two people. Azimio claims at least four people were killed in the demos. The Raila Odinga-led opposition has faulted Ruto for going against his pledge on “weaponising” the police, dismissing the president’s assertions that he stands for constitutionalism and respect for the rule of law.
The Kenya Kwanza administration has also been criticised by civil society organisations and professional groups after Communications Authority of Kenya CEO Ezra Chiloba threatened to gag the media over how they cover Azimio’s anti-government protests.
Azimio has planned demonstrations against Ruto’s administration on Mondays and Thursdays as they capitalise on the Kenya Kwanza administration’s apparent blunders.
Ruto has been under immense pressure to initiate dialogue with his rival to address their concerns, with many faulting his hard-line position against the Opposition, as well as Azimio’s against the government.
“The situation is so poisoned to an extent that everyone is saying no dialogue,” Suba Churchill, the Executive Director of the Kenya National Civil Society Centre, said in an interview on KTN News on Wednesday. “It is absurd that the president is saying there will be no handshake... people should be dialoguing around the clock.”
The Opposition’s main issue with Ruto, it would seem, going by the order of demands, is the runaway cost of living. In the seven months that he has been in office, the President has been unable to find a solution to a problem he said in the campaigns he had an immediate remedy.
And the opposition has used that to hammer him in public, accusing Ruto of breaking his promise to bring unga prices down and withdrawing subsidies on fuel and electricity, which has seen the cost of commodities steadily rise. Amid the condemnation, Ruto has said there would be no quick fixes to the cost of living, even as his government gives conflicting information on whether the price of unga would come down.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi has promised lower unga prices in a week. Still, he made a similar promise in January when he said unga would cost significantly less in February.
As he issued the promise to lawmakers on Tuesday, Linturi lamented a global maize shortage, which Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua talked about recently, raising concern that unga prices would not drop. Millers, too, have warned that mwananchi should expect higher costs of the country’s staple. On social and traditional media platforms, Kenyans have questioned recent decisions Ruto has made, such as his appointment of 50 CASs at an annual bill of more than Sh500 million to the taxpayer.
Gachagua recently justified the need to have the many CASs as necessary in reviving the economy, which made a mockery of the DP’s previous assertions that they had “inherited a dilapidated economy” and found “empty coffers”. Kabuchai MP Majimbo Kalasinga yesterday concurred with Gachagua, terming the criticism against Ruto “unfair.”
“We have a problem with production. We need production and how do we get it without manpower,” Kalasinga said of the appointment of CASs. “They will be spread to all the departments.”
“Ruto is not reinventing the wheel, he found these positions already there, created by those who were in the handshake,” he added. The President has been criticised for creating an additional 27 CAS positions, against a request to the Public Service Commission to open up 23 vacancies. That and the fact that he rushed to swear in the 50 CASs minutes before a case challenging their nomination was to be mentioned.
The constitutionality of the position has been questioned, just as the legality of Musalia Mudavadi’s Prime Cabinet Secretary post and the recent office of the spouse of the Prime Cabinet Secretary, which Mudavadi has said would not be run using public funds. But the President has faced the heat mostly for his apparent U-turn in his previous stand against “creating positions.”
Ruto’s campaign was as much popularising his agenda as it was chiding his rivals, who consistently provided fodder for his never-ending criticism. His predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta was in charge when the country’s economy faltered and when many Kenyans struggled to feed themselves.
On the campaign trail, Ruto would tell the masses that Uhuru was squarely to blame for the economic downturn and the resultant runaway cost of living. He would also say that Raila shouldered equal blame courtesy of the March 2018 handshake with Uhuru.
Ruto dismissed his predecessor’s explanation that Kenya’s economy was hurt by the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, rationalisations the President has recently adopted in explaining the country’s financial woes.
And he seems to be giving back to the Opposition, which has witnessed a high supply of issues with which it could attack the administration.
“These blunders will come to bite him,” said university lecturer Prof Gitile Naituli. “People are wired to see mistakes, meaning that even if Ruto does anything positive going forward, they will not see it.” Amid the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) constitutional amendment push, President Ruto would accuse Uhuru and Raila of only seeking to “create positions” for themselves and their allies.
A year after the Supreme Court quashed the BBI, Ruto has populated his bloated administration with allies, most of whom lost in last year’s elections. He has also earned criticism for slighting the “mama mboga” and “boda boda riders”, on whose backs he rode his campaign, by failing to appoint a single one to his Executive.
“You said you would give opportunities to the mama mboga. Where is she among the CASs recently nominated? Hustlers were deceived,” Likoni MP Mishi Mboko said on Tuesday.
“What do you tell mama mboga now since you had already promised that the government would be theirs?” Prof Naituli posed, arguing that Ruto has failed to understand that he is under more public scrutiny now that he is President.
“Ruto is a very good campaigner but a bad manager... a day after CASs are appointed, we are told that the Salaries and Remuneration Commission has increased their salaries.”
Ruto has also been faulted for making appointments that do not meet regional balance and, equally critical, turning back on his promise to allocate 50 per cent of his Cabinet to women. He appointed seven women to his Cabinet, falling short of the constitutional two-thirds principle.
The President also failed to meet the gender rule in the appointment of Principal Secretaries (12 out of 51 are women) and CASs (13 out of 50 are women). This, essentially, discredits his push to have more women nominated in Parliament through constitutional amendments.
On the flip side, the President has also honoured some of the pledges. For instance, he appointed the six judges Uhuru had rejected. Ruto has also rolled out his Hustler Fund programme, even though the lending facility has not been interest-free, as he had promised it would be.