By Steve MkawalePresident Kibaki met Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Tuesday evening amid speculation Cabinet changes were in the offing.
Raila, who returned on Monday after a two-week trip abroad, lent credence to the talk earlier in the day when he told journalists shuffle of Cabinet was on the way.
"A Cabinet reshuffle is the work of the Executive. It is the prerogative of the Executive to appoint or re-appoint members to Cabinet. I do not wish to comment on individual appointments," Raila said early afternoon.
Though it is likely the President and the PM could have discussed the changes, a statement dispatched by the Presidential Press Service after the meeting merely reported the two talked about the rising cost of fuel and food.
The PPS also reported they deliberated on alternative funding for Economic Stimulus Package and youth unemployment.
It is understood the PM is keen on shuffling his side of the Grand Coalition Cabinet to address the issue of Eldoret North MP William Ruto, who was suspended last year because of a court case, which has since been thrown out.
There were reports early in the week the Head of Public Service and Secretary to Cabinet Francis Muthaura had told Ruto to return to his office at Ministry of Higher Education.
The Eldoret North MP, however, is said to have insisted since his suspension was done in writing by the President and the PM, and given the PM was abroad, he would only resume work if the suspension were lifted in a similar way.
Though it is not clear yet, if Raila, who has since fallen out and has been fighting political battles with Ruto, would endorse his return to Cabinet. Ruto is allied to the PM’s Orange Democratic Movement.
DilemmaRuto, who is among the ‘Ocampo Six’, is waiting to know in September if they would be charged with crimes against humanity. He has accused Raila of betrayal, and even alleged a role in his tribulations in relation to post-election violence.
Raila, on the other hand, sees Ruto as a rebel bent on wrecking his party for the sake of new alliances, and as a politician who has made up his mind to leave ODM but is holding onto its ticket for technical reasons.
Sources reveal Raila’s dilemma lies in the fact that if he keeps Ruto out of Cabinet, he could be sending a message to the MP’s supporters in the Rift Valley that he does not mean well for him.
But if he retains Ruto, the argument goes, he risks looking cowardly to his supporters in ODM who are pushing him to take decisive action against rebels to give the party time to reinvent itself ahead of the General Election, due next year.
When the changes come, it would be about Ruto. Unlike Henry Kosgey whose court case is still pending, the Eldoret North MP’s case has been determined in his favour. Before the ICC, he is still a suspect, and it could be argued there is no reason to keep him out of Cabinet.
However, according to the National Accord and Reconciliation Act 2008, Raila shares Executive power with the President. The Head of State can only appoint or drop a member from his party from the Cabinet with the PM’s approval.
The shuffle could therefore present Raila with opportunity to leave out Ruto, and bolster new alliances, or to send a signal he is tolerant.
On Tuesday at his news conference, Raila declined to comment on Ruto’s possible return to Cabinet after being cleared of corruption charges by court, but he hinted there was a shuffle coming.
Ruto was suspended from the Cabinet after the Constitutional Court ruled a corruption case against him and two others should proceed to full trial. The magistrate’s court later cleared Ruto and his co-accused of the Sh272 million-fraud charge.
Government spokesman Alfred Mutua has said it was a matter of time before Ruto returns to Cabinet.
It is understood a determination of Ruto’s issue was delayed because of Raila’s absence.
Reinstatement When the President announced Ruto’s suspension last year, Kibaki said he had consulted the PM. It is believed he could not announce the Eldoret North MP’s reinstatement without consultation.
Raila brushed aside questions about whether Ruto was headed back to the Cabinet, saying: "I do not want to talk about individuals but those places would be filled."
Opinion has been sharply divided in ODM over Ruto’s fate.
MPs allied to Ruto claim he is not desperate to get back to Cabinet. But those opposed to him say they would not agree to his return as he was working against the interests of their party.
However, Ruto’s allies argue the Eldoret North MP would be an asset for Government given his performance when he served as Minister for Agriculture. Yesterday, ODM Chief Whip Jakoyo Midiwo, "Ruto is on the side of Cabinet of ODM and it is within the prerogative of the Prime Minister to return him. We have not discussed this, but he should not dare make such a move."
He added: "It is not easy for him to come back, Kibaki should not do it alone, but there has to be consultation first."
But Eldama Ravine MP Moses Lessonet dismissed Midiwo’s arguments, arguing lifting of a suspension was different from an appointment. He said the law that led to Ruto’s suspension states he returns if cleared.
Another ally of Ruto, Cherangany MP, Joshua Kuttuny, said the Eldoret North MP was not desperate to make a comeback but argued he was a performer and should be allowed to return to his post.
Kuttuny argued Ruto can’t ‘stoop too low’ just to get back his position, but added it is advisable to get him back.
Wildlife Assistant Minister Josephat Nanok argued Raila would have the final say on Ruto’s fate.
Mumias MP Benjamin Washiali held Ruto does not deserve the post since he is not loyal to the party.
Additional reporting by Peter Opiyo and Anderson Ojwang’.