Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Is it a quick return to the Cabinet for William Ruto?

By MACHARIA GAITHO

Mr William Ruto might be looking forward to a quick return to the Cabinet.

Following his acquittal in the Sh270 million Kenya Pipeline Company-Ngong Forest fraud case, the suspended Higher Education Minister might be confident that President Kibaki will be eager to reinstate him so that the political war against Prime Minister Raila Odinga can be accelerated from the inner sanctum.

Immediately after Tuesday’s ruling, Mr Ruto was quick to crow that he had been vindicated in his protestation that the whole case was based on political persecution.

In fact, he added, the judgement reinforces his faith that he will come out clean in another major case hanging over his head — the International Criminal Court accusations of crimes against humanity from Kenya’s bout of post-election violence.

The judgement by chief magistrate Gilbert Mutembei clearing Mr Ruto and his co-accused, retired president Moi’s former personal assistant Joshua Kulei and Baringo Central MP and former Commissioner of Lands Sammy Mwaita, is likely to be keenly perused for evidence of suspicious shortcomings by either the court or the prosecution.

Mr Ruto is celebrating a double victory in a matter of days after returning from The Hague and somehow proclaiming victory after the mere formality of an initial appearance.

No doubt he will be looking to parlay the magistrate’s ruling to political advantage, and a quick recall to Cabinet would be a powerful endorsement.

But the President does not have a free hand in the re-appointment because Mr Ruto is from the ODM wing of the coalition and was, therefore, Mr Odinga’s nominee.

The coalition agreement, which is embedded in the law, provides that while the President may make the formal appointment to the Cabinet and senior offices, he must consult the Prime Minister.

It therefore follows that President Kibaki cannot reinstate Mr Ruto without Mr Odinga’s consent.

Chances are that Mr Odinga will not want to bring back to the government a politician who has waged unrelenting warfare against him. If anything, he might prefer to give the vacant slot to someone else.

But then that might also present complications because the coalition agreement is rather vague on whether either of the partners is free to drop a minister from his side of the coalition without seeking the other’s consent.

The situation now can provide President Kibaki with room for a bit of mischief. He could reinstate Mr Ruto on the strength of the acquittal and then wait for Mr Odinga to protest furiously and further alienate himself from an already aggrieved constituency.

But even if President Kibaki were inclined to bring back Mr Ruto — and that is the advice he would get from the latter’s Ocampo Six co-accused and co-leader in the anti-Raila alliance, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta — he would still have to consider The Hague case.

Mr Ruto has been out of the Cabinet since last October when he lost a constitutional case seeking to have the fraud case that had been stuck in the court corridors for years thrown out.

He never voluntarily stepped aside, but left after a curious statement in which President Kibaki, following consultations with the Prime Minister, ‘stood aside Hon William Ruto’ pending conclusion of the case.

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