At 3pm on Tuesday in the President’s rather small office at Harambee House, President Kibaki hosted his neighbour from across the street, Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
In front of them was a report prepared by Attorney-General Amos Wako on their legal options after a court put Higher Education minister William Ruto on trial for fraud.
Sources in their offices say the two leaders were feeling the pressure from the public, a section of politicians and civil society to demonstrate that in matters of leadership and integrity, it was no longer business as usual, that the new Constitution mattered.
Mr Wako’s report, the sources said, gave the two grand coalition government leaders one choice — to sack or suspend Mr Ruto.
Mr Wako, basing his advice on the provisions of the new Constitution, the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act and the Public Officer Ethics Act, recommended that Mr Ruto be suspended from his ministerial position, pending the determination of the court case. Section 62 (1) of the Anti-Corruption Act reads: “A public officer who is charged with corruption or economic crime shall be suspended at half pay, with effect from the date of the charge.”
The same section provides for the reinstatement of Mr Ruto if he is cleared of the charges by the court.
It reads in Section 62 (3): “The public officer ceases to be suspended if the proceedings against him are discontinued or if he is acquitted.”
Mr Ruto’s lawyer, Mr Katwa Kigen, has argued that the section does not apply to his client because he is charged with fraud under the Penal Code and not under the Anti-Corruption Act.
Weighing on the minds of the two leaders, the sources from their offices said, was the necessity to be seen to be obeying the letter and spirit of the new Constitution while at the same time knowing full well that they would be accused of witch-hunt in matters to do with Mr Ruto.
After going through Mr Wako’s report, which had summed up the history of the Sh272 million case, the sources said the principals were in agreement that the new Constitution did not give them room to dance around the question of holding public officers accountable.
Therefore, Mr Ruto was shown the door to await the outcome of the case against him. In a strong reaction, a section of Rift Valley MPs and the Kalenjin Council of Elders Wednesday described the suspension as a plot to block the Eldoret North MP from vying for the presidency in 2012.
The suspension was announced as Rift Valley MPs allied to Mr Ruto met at the International Bible School in Nairobi. They immediately threw aside their agenda to discuss the significance of the decision.
The MPs, among them Mr Charles Keter (Belgut), Luka Kigen (Kuresoi), Benjamin Lang’at (Ainamoi), Jackson Kiptanui (Keiyo South) and Joshua Kutuny (Cherangany), agreed to consult further.
On Wednesday, Mr Kigen said the suspension was politically motivated. “Mr Ruto poses serious competition to some of those in power and that is why they want to scuttle him. He has a massive following not only in the Rift Valley but the country,” he said.
The lawyer pointed a finger at Mr Ruto’s rivals in the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) for his problems. It was “a case of politics within ODM,” he said.
Mr Kigen demanded that those implicated in the Sh272 million fraud case against the suspended Higher Education minister be made to face the law.
In Eldoret, Keiyo North MP Lucas Chepkitony demanded a quick conclusion of the case against Mr Ruto.
“If it is really a corruption case, then some questions have to be answered. The land in question was 100 acres and Mr Ruto is only in court for five acres. Where are the people behind 95 acres? The government has records and they know who these people are,” he said.
“The matter is not a unique case. Former and current ministers have been suspended over claims of corruption but were reinstated after they were found innocent,” Mr Chepkitony said.
Nominated MP Musa Sirma termed the suspension a blow to Mr Ruto’s presidential ambitions and predicted that the case will drag on.
“The suspension of Ruto and subsequent appointment of (Hellen) Sambili has nothing to do with politics,” said Mr Sirma, an ally of Mr Odinga.
Kalenjin Council of elders chairman Major (Rtd) John Seii termed the suspension untimely, saying it might take long before the fraud case against Mr Ruto is concluded.
Eldoret North Constituency Development Fund (CDF) manager Isaac Maiyo termed the suspension a political move to derail Mr Ruto’s presidential ambitions.
“The suspension was expected as his rivals want to derail him from the presidential race,” he said.