Friday, January 23, 2009

Cabinet reshuffle: Why Kibaki acted

By ERIC SHIMOLI

Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta was the biggest beneficiary of Friday’s Cabinet reshuffle when he was named Finance minister.

But just as pleased by President Kibaki’s appointments was Buret MP Franklin Bett who joins the Cabinet as Minister of Roads.

Mr Kenyatta’s replacement at the Ministry of Trade is former Finance Minister Amos Kimunya, who returns to the Cabinet six months after MPs passed a vote of no confidence in him over the sale of Grand Regency Hotel to Libyan investors.

Mr Bett succeeds former Kipkelion MP Kipkalia Kones who died in a plane crash.

Mr Kones’s widow, Mrs Beatrice Kones, was named assistant minister for Home Affairs, replacing Ms Lorna Laboso who died in the same plane crash.

Mr Kenyatta will preside over preparations for this year’s Budget, lead negotiations with international lenders and donors and present the proposals to Parliament in June.

Treasury experts speculated that the naming of a substantive finance minister at this time was crucial to ensure that preparations for the Budget went on smoothly.

Prior to this, Attorney General Amos Wako had to write to international groups endorsing everything Environment Minister John Michuki negotiated or signed with international groups for them to take effect.

Two major international conferences with implications on the operations of the Treasury will be held at the beginning of February and the presence of a substantive finance minister is crucial.

The “Kenya We Want” conference is expected to be attended by experts and leaders from Asia, among other countries.

As a prospective presidential candidate, the new appointment will serve Mr Kenyatta well because of the exposure he will get, including the three or so hour live television coverage he will get if he presents this year’s Budget in June.

Mr Michuki, the Minister for Environment and Mineral Resources, and Mr Chris Obure, the Minister for Public Works remain in their dockets.

But it was Mr Kenyatta, a son of Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta and a one time Kanu presidential candidate, who emerged as the biggest beneficiary of the reshuffle.

The move from the Trade ministry to the more high profile Finance portfolio will give Mr Kenyatta an even higher profile both locally and internationally.

Others who have held the portfolio and who have gone on to more senior government jobs include President Kibaki, Internal Security Minister George Saitoti, who served as former President Daniel arap Moi’s vice-president, and Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi who also served as Mr Moi’s last deputy.

For Mr Kimunya, his return to the Cabinet is indication of a vote of confidence in him by President Kibaki.

Mr Kimunya was personally cleared of any wrongdoing in the Grand Regency sale, but the Treasury was found guilty of failing to seek advice on the transaction from the Attorney-General.

Mr Bett is a former long term aide of former President Daniel arap Moi. He was Mr Moi’s speech writer for many years before becoming Deputy Comptroller and later State House Comptroller.

He parted ways with his mentor in the run up to the 2002 General Election, acting as Mr Odinga’s pointman in the South Rift area populated by the Kipsigis sub-tribe of the Kalenjin community.

He was a Narc nominated MP until the 2007 General Election, when he won the Buret parliamentary seat on an ODM ticket.

He spent part of December holidays in Nyanza where he was feted by members of the Luo Council of elders, who lobbied for him to be named to the Cabinet.

Sources said his appointment was also supported by ODM chairman Henry Kosgey, but the elevation was at the expense of Belgut MP Charles Keter, an ally of Agriculture Minister William Ruto.

On Friday, Mr Bett promised to work diligently without fear and favour in the ministry.

“I know I have an uphill task in the ministry but with the help of God all will be achieved and I ask for full support of all, so that our ambitions can be achieved,” said the delighted Mr Bett.

He thanked the appointing authorities for the trust they had in him and said that he would not let them down.

Speaking to the Nation by phone, Mr Bett said that he thanked his constituents for electing him as MP, which led to his Cabinet appointment.

The Buret MP said that the appointment to the Cabinet was shocking because he was not aware that he was being considered.

Additional reporting by Sollo Kiragu

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