Officials of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission may benefit from the Cabinet’s approval on Friday of a law that gives them terms similar to those of other commissioners.
Already, most NCIC commissioners are said to be engaged in behind-the-scene lobbying for a renewal of their terms that ends September 8.
NCIC was set up before the promulgation of the Constitution, which means that unlike other constitutional commissions whose commissioners are appointed for six-year terms, the cohesion body’s commissioners were appointed on renewable three-year contracts in 2009.
But it is unclear whether the current commissioners’ terms will be renewed.
Sources privy to the goings on at the cohesion team say unease has gripped the commissioners, with many fearing they may not fit the bill if they are forced to undergo the kind of vetting other commissioners have undergone.
And although the commissioners say they were vetted by MPs and that the Executive took another four months scrutinising their suitability before they were appointed, many believe the process was superficial.
Planning foreign trips
There are also reports that commissioners are trying to make the most of the time left in case they are not reappointed by planning foreign trips.
They are said to have organised trips to the UK and US, ostensibly to engage the Kenyan diaspora, which critics have faulted on the basis that suspicion and hatred still exist between some communities within Kenya.
It is instead thought that they should engage local communities, or travel to countries like South Africa and Rwanda that have a history with cohesion and reconciliation processes.
“We have been to those countries and learnt from them. We have also done a lot as far as promoting peaceful co-existence among Kenyans is concerned, and since we receive many requests from Kenyans in the diaspora to engage them, we felt it was fair to do so. These trips were planned a long time ago, and it is not something we are doing clandestinely,” said NCIC chair Dr Mzalendo Kibunjia.
The trips have also raised eyebrows as no technical staff have so far been scheduled to accompany the commissioners as has been the case on previous tours. Commissioners receive hefty allowances whenever they go abroad.
They have also been accused of taking on jobs that are meant to be left to technical staff, with critics again claiming the allowances are their motivation.
However, Commissioner Milly Lwanga dismissed the allegations.
“Our work is clearly spelled out, but since we have not had a good technical team, we have engaged in various tasks where we mainly give policy direction. Besides, we are full-time commissioners and not members of a board,” she said.
The late Mary Onyango, who until her death in May was the commission’s vice-chairperson, has also not been replaced, further fuelling speculation that the commissioners could be on their way out.
Parliament, when approving the names of those to be appointed to serve in the commission, forwarded 15 names from which President Kibaki in consultation with Prime Minister Raila Odinga picked eight commissioners and a chairperson, with the other six meant to remain on standby for appointment in case of any eventuality.
Dr Kibunjia says they have not elected a vice-chair because they do not want to be seen as rushing to fill the void in the absence of the yet-to-be-appointed commissioner.
And there appears to be an impasse on the way forward in the renewal of the terms of the current commissioners after Parliament rejected unilateral appointment of commissioners following the Executive’s proposed reappointment of the team for another three-year term.
The Justice ministry is also yet to advertise for the positions of commissioners with just five weeks to go to their end of term.
Ms Lwanga acknowledged that the commissioners would welcome a renewal of their contracts, but were prepared for exit, too.
“We are already finalising our report in case our term is not renewed but we do hope it will be renewed so that we finish the tasks we have ahead of us,” she said. And in Isiolo, Commissioner Halake Dida on Saturday said that NCIC was working closely with the police to guard against politicians inciting communities in Northern Kenya.
Speaking during a sensitisation meeting on peaceful elections, Mr Dida also urged journalists to be cautious when covering campaigns so as not to fan tribal animosity, adding that the media plays a vital role in building a cohesive nation through factual reporting.
He further said that the NCIC will enforce implementation of a declaration on peaceful coexistence formulated by communities in Northern Kenya.
Additional reporting by Hassan Huka