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Monday, October 31, 2011
SATURDAY, 29 OCTOBER 2011 00:06 BY JOE ADAMA
Why ‘Political Responsibility’ Talk is all in the Succession Mix
The Grand Coalition’s dysfunction mode was particularly evident in the week Kenya’s Defence Forces entered Somalia in the hot pursuit operation against the Al Shabaab militia known as Operation Linda Nchi. For a nation at war, it is essential that a united front at the top be maintained at all times and certainly, even for an unwieldy coalition, in the first weeks of hostilities. But, for some reason, Prime Minister Raila Odinga chose his appearance the same week as a witness in a case brought by a journalist against former President Daniel arap Moi to accuse President Kibaki of “political responsibility” for the post-election violence of 2007-08.
A swift rejoinder came from the President and was even more swiftly followed by the cancellation of a political tour by the PM of Othaya Constituency, the President’s electoral political backyard. A couple of weeks before that, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta made the same charge of “political responsibility” for the PEV against Raila in Pretrial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
Long before Uhuru’s appearance at The Hague and on an entirely other subject, Raila introduced the “political responsibility” principle into the Kenyan political lexicon when he demanded that Cabinet ministers William Ruto and Prof. Sam Ongeri resign in the face of the un-masking of corrupt activities in their ministries.
In the very same week of the war on Al Shabaab, the apparently all-purpose “political responsibility” factor reared its head again and this time went straight for the PM’s own jugular. A World Bank aid project audit of the Kazi kwa Vijana initiative appeared to have found that senior officials in the PM’s office had embezzled or otherwise misused hundreds of millions of shillings, even billions, under his watch.
The PM’s political foes were exultant, with Eldoret North MP William Ruto going as far as asserting that the entire Kazi kwa Vijana initiative was conceived of and has been executed entirely as a scam.
Citing the Westminster tradition, Wikipedia defines the consequences of “individual ministerial responsibility”, the core of the Kenyan spin on “political responsibility”, as entailing, “. . . if waste, corruption, or any other misbehaviour is found to have occurred within a ministry, the minister is responsible even if the minister had no knowledge of the actions.
A minister is ultimately responsible for all actions by a ministry. Even without knowledge of an infraction by subordinates the minister approved the hiring and continued employment of those civil servants. If misdeeds are found to have occurred in a ministry the minister is expected to resign. It is also possible for a minister to face criminal charges for malfeasance under their watch.
The principle is considered essential as it is seen to guarantee that an elected official is answerable for every single government decision. It is also important to motivate ministers to closely scrutinise the activities within their departments”. The ultimate sideshow on the road to the Kibaki succession would surely be a scenario in which Raila “stepped aside” in the Kenyan tradition and an acting Prime Minister, for instance Lands Minister James Orengo, held the fort until, say, Easter.
But the strict tradition as defined by Wikipedia has been much eroded in many Commonwealth countries, including Britain, Canada and Australia. What’s more, the erosion began in the year following perhaps the most famous resignation for reasons of “political responsibility” in a Commonwealth nation, that of Lord Carrington, the then British Foreign Secretary, in 1982, at the outbreak of the Falklands War, under “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher as Premier. Wikileaks reports: “. . . in 1983, when 38 IRA prisoners broke out of the Maze prison, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Prior, did not resign, explaining that the break-out was not caused by any policy initiative originating from him. This latter position has become the general norm in British politics”.
It is a general norm that Kenya politicians have long borrowed from, whether they stay put in office or step aside and then almost ritually return to office upon inconclusive or totally exculpatory investigations. It will almost certainly constitute Raila’s own core self-defence when he faces his detractors on this issue in Parliament and elsewhere.
According to a House of Commons Research Paper (Paper 04/31 of 5 April 2004), titled “Individual ministerial responsibility - issues and examples”, what Kenyans are now characterising as “political responsibility” is an area that is governed less by statute than by precedent and guidance. In Kenya, all three are woefully lacking.
Political pundits will long ponder the true nature of relations between the Principals of the Grand Coalition Government on the road to the succession in 2012 and wonder why President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga did not enjoy a much closer rapprochement if only by dint of occupying a unique leadership partnership in Kenyan political history.
The road to the Kibaki succession has clearly entered a phase that can be characterised as Sideshow Time. At this point ahead of the first Presidential transition General Election back in 2002, President Daniel arap Moi found himself and the nation diverted by all manner of political sideshows, including massive outbreaks of violence in the capital city’s Eastlands areas in which Mungiki and other illegal militias routinely slaughtered scores of commuters in overnight attacks and counterattacks and then-ruling party Kanu staged political marriages of conveniences that turned out to be its ultimate undoing only months later.
At that time as now, the unblinking national pretense was that the sideshows had no bearing on the then looming transition presidential election.