Cabinet must unite on reform agenda

Yesterday’s long-awaited unveiling of the grand coalition Cabinet was a triumph of pragmatism, but it was also, as feared, an unhappy compromise.

Despite massive public pressure, there was no retreat from the record-setting Cabinet of 40 President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga had agreed on. This places Government at a disadvantage in the court of public opinion.

To redeem itself, the Government must effectively push through an ambitious renewal and reform agenda in the next five years. This is only possible if it can resist the predisposition of grand coalitions to squabbling and paralysis.

Part of the Cabinet’s agenda has been foisted onto it by circumstances. The resettlement of the internally displaced and the reconstruction of the economy, as well as other problems created by post-election violence, take priority.

Governance reforms — from a new constitution to electoral and political party reforms — are key to addressing these issues permanently. Cabinet will also have to provide leadership in tackling the difficult questions of past economic crimes, political violence and land ownership.

To the men and women who have joined this unprecedented line-up, this is what taxpayers expect of you, both individually and collectively: non-partisan execution of your functions to benefit the public; transparency and accountability in the use of the powers of your office; and integrity in your public and private affairs that goes beyond merely acting within the law.

You are accountable to the President, the Prime Minister and, through the National Assembly, to the people. Your ultimate accountability, in our considered opinion, is to the people. The measures by which your performance on this front will be judged are your proposals’ impact on wananchi’s lives and your attention to their concerns during parliamentary proceedings. Rest assured your attendance and performance at question time will be closely watched.

The arrangements that have been necessary to get us this far have been contentious. Progress in crafting a grand coalition has come in fits and starts. Therefore, there is reason to fear infighting in Cabinet over the direction Government should take on key issues.

We say again: the attainment of political power may require competition, but governance — particularly in a grand coalition — requires co-operation. Government business can only succeed with solidarity in Cabinet. The temptation to create rival centres of power or to behave as if we have two governments should be resisted. Compromise and consensus building are necessary for Cabinet decisions. Simply put, you succeed together or fail together.

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