Eldoret North MP William Ruto was on Tuesday suspended from Cabinet as minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology pending the hearing and determination of a Sh272 million fraud case against him.
The President used the opportunity to reshuffle assistant ministers.
He should stand trial
Mr Ruto had gone to the Constitutional Court to challenge his prosecution over a land deal and the court last week ruled he should stand trial.
A dispatch from State House on Tuesday said: “Following consultations with the Rt Hon Prime Minister, His Excellency the President has stood aside Hon William S Ruto from office of minister with immediate effect.”
Prof Hellen Sambili, the East African Community minister, was appointed to act as minister for Higher Education, putting her in charge of two dockets for the time being.
A source at the Attorney-General’s chambers told the Daily Nation that Mr Amos Wako had advised Mr Odinga and the President that the law required Mr Ruto’s suspension until the fraud case against him is determined.
On Monday, Mr Wako held what one Office of the President official described as a lengthy meeting with the President at State House Nairobi, starting at around 5pm.
Earlier, he had met Mr Odinga, according to the official. And on Tuesday, President Kibaki received his co-principal at his Harambee House Office at 3pm and the two were holed up in a meeting for about an hour and a half.
Wanjiru back in ministry
According to the National Accord, Mr Kibaki cannot sack a minister from the Orange side of the government without Mr Odinga’s consent.
On Sunday, a top government official had told the Daily Nation that the President was very reluctant to be seen to act in defiance of the law, meaning that the moment the Court of Appeal committed Mr Ruto to stand trial, his goose was more or less cooked.
In Tuesday’s minor reshuffle, the President brought back Bishop Margaret Wanjiru, who has just successfully defended her Starehe seat, reappointing her Housing assistant minister.
Embakasi MP Ferdinand Waititu is now assistant minister in the ministry of Water and Irrigation replacing, Laikipia East MP Mwangi Kiujuri who has been moved to the ministry of Public Works in the same capacity.
Kilome MP Harun Mwau and Bomachoge MP Simon Ogari swapped ministries. Mr Mwau will now be the new Assistant minister for Trade, a position previously held by Mr Ogari, who now takes over as the Assistant minister for Transport.
Mr Ruto’s ministerial position became legally untenable last Friday after the constitutional court’s ruling.
Section 62 of the Anti-corruption and Economic Crimes Act stipulates that “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”.
Such a suspended public officer continues to receive the full amount of any allowances, says the law.
The minister’s ministerial career was thrown into a spin when the panel of three judges dismissed a petition he filed in 2005 seeking to stop court proceedings against him claiming that his rights had been infringed.
Following the ruling, Mr Ruto through his lawyer, asked for certified copies to enable him appeal. The court gave him permission to challenge their verdict but also directed the criminal case be mentioned on October 26. Judges Jeanne Gacheche, Leonard Njagi and Roseline Wendoh said that they were not convinced that any of Mr Ruto’s rights had been infringed because he was still innocent until the trial court proved otherwise.
Mr Ruto and four other persons face fraud charges over the alleged sale of a piece of land in Ngong Forest to Kenya Pipeline Company Ltd for a total of Sh272 million. The minister allegedly received Sh96 million at various times during the alleged transaction.
In the case, the Eldoret North MP and Berke Commercial Agencies, a company associated with him, Mr Joshua Kulei, a former aide of retired President Daniel Moi, Mr Sammy Mwaita (Baringo Central MP and former Commissioner of Lands) and two other firms were sued for allegedly obtaining money from KPC between August 6 and September 6, 2001.