Jerry Okungu: Let us give the new coalition Cabinet a chance

Finally, what Kenyans have debated and discussed for seven weeks, has come to pass: President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga agreed on a Grand Coalition Cabinet.

However, the size of that team has left many numbed. After weeks of haggling over the size and portfolios; the country was presented with a bloated 42-member Cabinet, the largest in the country’s history.

More intriguingly, it was difficult to trace what the last-minute argument was all about, since the Party of National Unity-led alliance retained all the ministries they had claimed.

Apologists for the top-heavy government were quick to endorse this extravagance as a necessary burden for the sake of peace. They added that since some ministries had been split, there would be no significant additions to the Government Budget since the split ministries had already been catered for in the current financial year.

What they were not telling us was that ministers are never known to share cars, bodyguards, residential houses and offices. Another thing, ministries don’t share salaries and duty allowances. Therefore, for Government spokesman, Dr Alfred Mutua, to mollify us that there will be no significant increase in Government expenditure is to test our level of intelligence to the limit.

On another level; let us look at the implications of this new Cabinet and its impact on coalition partners.

Perhaps the happiest politicians in the new administration will be fringe parties like Kanu and ODM-Kenya that will not bear the burden of explaining themselves to the depressed electorate. They have taken refuge in the fact that the ODM-PNU accord only recognises two principals who can make or break the coalition. As it is, the future of the parties leaders — Mr Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Kalonzo Musyoka — depends largely on Kibaki. If Kibaki sinks, they sink too.

President Kibaki is also a big beneficiary of the bloated Cabinet. The man never promised Kenyans a lean, clean and efficient Cabinet; therefore he doesn’t have to worry with the civil society. Moreover, the man is on the last leg of his presidency. If anything, as soon as the Cabinet is in place and Raila takes over as the Prime Minister, chances are that Kibaki will proceed on a long leave of absence, pending his retirement.

Perhaps the biggest loser in this arrangement will be Raila Amolo Odinga. He is the one who promised us meaningful change. He is the man who promised us a lean, clean and efficient government.

He is also the one who has to supervise and coordinate the 90 Members of Parliament that have been appointed to the Cabinet. He is the one who will be answerable Parliament on government performance. The buck will stop with him.

However, the immediate backlash that should concern Raila is if there will be protests against the Cabinet by various pressure groups.

Right now, it would appear that the opposition to the bloated Cabinet that originally came from the Kikuyu, Embu, Meru and Akamba communities has died down. Whether churches from Nyanza, Rift Valley and Western Province will join forces with their Mt Kenya counterparts in accepting the team is another matter. However, if the Muslims who supported ODM during the elections join the voices of dissent, then Raila will have a lot of explaining to do.

Reading online messages on the mood on the ground, it would appear that civil society organisations that originally closed ranks with donor agencies to oppose a bloated Cabinet have suddenly given up! If they continue to grumble, eyes will be turned to the progressive Raila to see if he will listen to the voices of Kenyans.

The fact remains, it was ill-advised for Kibaki and Raila to succumb to pressure from their followers and form a large Cabinet. Doing so before they overhauled the Constitution, resettled the internally displaced and provided free secondary education as promised was unwise.

However, now that we have a government in place, the only logical thing is to give it the benefit of the doubt in the hope that it will settle down to business and deliver services to the people as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

The writer is a communications consultant

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