It is puzzling that President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga appear mystified on how to resolve the Cabinet conundrum when their instinct should be to follow the Constitution — dissolve the cumbersome, expensive, and often ineffective team as now composed and appoint a lean, less costly, and easier to manage 14-person machine.
Kenyans would welcome this radical shift for it would imply several things. One, that the principals are fed up with recalcitrant ministers who hold those positions as God-given.
Two, it will be a powerful signal to all that the new Constitution is now being applied in the Executive domain.
The argument from the Legislature (on taxes) and political party leadership (on State officers and party leadership) that the new laws should apply after the next General Election is sterile.
Disbanding the Cabinet would also signal that the two are in sync with the fundamentally changed political landscape.
It is completely counter-intuitive that Prof Sam Ongeri should thump his nose at Kenyans calling for his resignation following the unearthing of extreme rot in the Education ministry’s disbursement of funds to primary schools. Such arrogance in answer to cries for justice in the theft of more than Sh4 billion is shockingly out of place in the new Kenya.
So is the demand by suspended Higher Education Minister William Ruto to the President and the Prime Minister that they explain to him why he cannot be reinstated to Cabinet since a court of law has acquitted him of charges that triggered his exit.
Even ignoring the many telling questions raised over the prosecution of that case, it is strange that a politician clearly estranged from the party on which he was elected, one who makes no secret of his extreme disdain for the leader of that party, one who has expressed his intention to ditch that party and challenge ODM for the party leadership, still has the cheek to demand a seat at the high table, courtesy of that same party.
Both Ongeri and Ruto’s chuzpah stems from the perceived paralysis the ruling pair faces because one is a retiring President and the other an aspiring one. It is said that for Kibaki to manage his succession, he needs Ruto to forestall Raila. But who tells Kibaki that Kenyans care about his succession plans?
The Constitution that will remain his most enduring legacy warns him that his succession is very much a wananchi issue and has very little to do with Kibaki’s whims.
It would be dumb for a President who, against many odds and severe criticism, has presided over remarkable growth and political transition to allow himself to be enmeshed in tribal and community shenanigans and shirk a final chance to walk out with great flourish.
For the President, a decision to apply the Constitution to determine the size of the Cabinet relieves him of unnecessary pressure and obligation to interests other than national ones.
It would be a fitting encore to a presidency that made delegation of responsibility and performance measures its signature identity.
For the Prime Minister, it would underscore a commitment to fast reform in an area that has for too long been in the unrelenting grip of political patronage. Presidents Kenyatta, Moi, and even Kibaki were hostage to the tribal equations that supported their governments and had to use ministerial appointments to satisfy those interests. No attention was paid to the huge costs this placed on the economy. The Constitution neuters this unhealthy set-up.
I suggest to the two principals that although they could still have to choose from politicians, a 14-member Cabinet is your answer to the efficiency Kenya seeks now.
It reduces opportunities for corruption, with fewer ministers trying to steal to fund elections. It streamlines ministries and reduces the huge budget deficit inflicted on Kenyans, who have to pay for the many bureaucracies.
Finally, it deals now with a problem that is likely to eat into time the new government could better use implementing other equally fundamental changes in the Constitution.
Mr Mshindi is the managing director of the Nation Newspapers Division. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org