Kenya’s prime minister said that he wants former UN chief Kofi Annan to intervene in a dispute with the president that is threatening a power-sharing agreement that helped end post-election bloodshed two years ago.
The public spat between the two leaders has deepened fractures in the coalition government. Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Sunday suspended two Cabinet members over corruption scandals only to see President Mwai Kibaki overrule the suspensions hours later.
Mr Odinga insisted today that the Cabinet ministers remain suspended and his action was legal, said Musalia Mudavadi, a deputy prime minister and key leader of Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement.
“The law is clear. On matters of discipline, suspension or interdiction of public officials including Cabinet ministers, the prime minister has exclusive authority. The prime minister does not share that power or authority with the president,” said Mr Mudavadi.
He was reading a statement on behalf of Mr Odinga, who is currently travelling to Japan for a week-long visit. Mr Mudavadi said that the prime minister will shortly be writing to Mr Annan and the African Union to seek their intervention.
Political commentator Kwendo Opanga said the dispute further dents the public’s confidence in Kenya’s coalition government, which was formed after more than 1,000 Kenyans were killed in the country’s worst violence since winning independence from Britain in 1963.
“What comes across quite clearly is that the two people are at loggerheads on a critical, crucial issue that speaks to many, many Kenyans and that they could be disagreeing dents the confidence the people have in the coalition,” said Opanga, who writes a regular column in the weekly Sunday Nation newspaper.
Under the power-sharing agreement, the president and prime minister are supposed to consult on Cabinet appointments or dismissals as the portfolios are split between their parties.
Mr Odinga said on Sunday he had suspended Agriculture Minister William Ruto and Education Minister Sam Ongeri for three months following corruption scandals that have plagued their ministries. Mr Odinga’s action was a rare move taken against a Cabinet minister in Kenya.
Shortly after Mr Odinga’s announcement, Mr Kibaki said the prime minister did not consult him before making the announcement and that Mr Odinga did not have authority to suspend the two ministers.
“Therefore constitutionally, the two ministers remain in office,” Mr Kibaki said in a statement. “This position should not be interpreted in any way as undermining the ongoing war against corruption.”
A PricewaterhouseCoopers forensic audit report made public on Thursday showed Kenya wasted 2 billion shillings (€19m) through corrupt deals made in the government programme meant to provide subsidised maize for Kenya’s poor.
Fraud uncovered by government auditors in the government’s programme to offer free primary education has seen Britain and US suspend yet to be disbursed aid.
The most recent report by a consulting firm monitoring the work of Kenya’s coalition government noted that Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga appeared to have a good working relationship but that their lieutenants continue to snipe at each other.
“Furthermore, there is increased factionalism within the different political parties,” said South Consulting in its October 2009 report.
The firm had been hired by Mr Annan, the former UN chief who mediated the power-sharing deal between Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga.