Cabinet’s here; Let’s get down to work

The entire nation must have breathed a long collective sigh of relief Sunday when President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga finally sealed the deal that will establish the Grand Coalition government.

The unity government is absolutely necessary to get back on track a country that was threatened with disintegration in the wake of last December’s disputed presidential election.

But even as we hail the landmark accord, it is only proper that we keep things in perspective.

We cheered when the President and Mr Odinga signed the power-sharing accord of February 28, only to be let down by inter-party feuding which threatened to destroy, not just everything that had been agreed on, but also what remained of the political goodwill between the negotiators.

So we cannot ignore the role played by the two leaders, President Kibaki and Premier Odinga, in putting together this Government, for whatever has been achieved has been due to their leadership, pragmatism and patriotism. These are skills and qualities that will be even more required in the coming weeks, months and years.

The Cabinet is not an end in itself. It is the beginning of a long journey to take Kenya back to the path of peace, prosperity, stability, equity and justice.

But these noble goals cannot be achieved if the new arrangement turns out to be a two-in-one government, rather than one government, united in purpose and speaking with one voice.

For now, all those appointees must put aside loyalty to their political parties and focus on serving the nation as one. They are a team, now, not two teams forced to play in the same league.

So what is the way forward? The most important challenge is to ensure that it sticks together through thick and thin. To use the marriage metaphor, in any union, there is bound to be friction between the partners now and then, and nobody can expect it to be without rough patches.

Which is where the important docket of Cabinet co-ordination headed by Prime Minister Odinga comes in. To steer such a Cabinet will require a steady, firm hand so that infighting between Cabinet ministers can be reduced to a minimum.

Strictly on merit

The loyalties of this huge body of ministers and assistants must not be to the President or to the Prime Minister, but to the Government, which they should all serve with one accord.

Also to be put aside for the time being should be issues such as the appointment of permanent secretaries, provincial administrators, ambassadors, and heads of parastatal organisations.

Civil servants must be appointed strictly on merit, not political loyalties. No civil servant should be sacked simply because he or she is perceived to owe loyalty to one leader or the other. It is more important to enforce the apolitical nature of the civil service.

Government programmes towards economic growth, infrastructure development, reconstruction, peace-building and healing the nation should proceed with all deliberate speed. So should the crucial move to review the Constitution, a document that has been a festering sore on the body politic for too long.

A great deal will depend on the personal leadership of both President Kibaki and Mr Odinga. They must never again allow themselves to be held hostage by selfish political interests.

We must remain alive to the reality that this is a government framed in very special circumstances – conflict – and so, ensuring the country never again degenerates to a state of anarchy must be its overriding mandate. As for the rest of us, we must remain vigilant. Civil society, churches, and professional bodies must be alert at all times, for without checks, no government will ever function the way it should.

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