Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Wednesday said he was confident that the main partners of the ruling coalition would find a way to end a rift over corruption allegations.
Speaking in Tokyo, Japan, where he is on a five-day visit, Mr Odinga said there was no danger of the coalition collapsing. “Sometimes disagreements and misunderstandings will arise between coalition partners. That does not mean that the coalition then collapses,’’ he said.
“There are ways ... to negotiate and to find solutions,” he continued. “This is one such case and I am confident that we will find a solution.”
A statement e-mailed to newsrooms by his communications chief Salim Lone, and attributed to ODM, emphasised that despite the dispute, the party remained committed to its role in the coalition, including conclusion of the constitution review and other phases of the reform programme.
It warned that “crucial Agenda 4 items could “not be addressed while there is such corruption”. The party asked that President Kibaki join Mr Odinga in the crusade against corruption by backing the suspension of Cabinet ministers William Ruto and Sam Ongeri.
But Mr Odinga’s confidence was not reflected at home as a Cabinet meeting scheduled for Thursday was cancelled and his PNU coalition partners vowed to take the feud against him to Parliament when it resumes next week. MPs allied to PNU on Wedneday resolved to trim Mr Odinga’s influence in Parliament by pushing for the appointment of Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka as leader of Government Business.
The coalition’s Parliamentary Group meeting at KICC resolved to support Kigumo MP Jamleck Kamau’s motion seeking to amend the Standing Orders to provide that the President appoints the leader of Government Business and chairman of the House Business Committee.
The positions have been vacant following a stand-off between the coalition partners. Sources said the weekly Cabinet meetings during which important national matters are discussed and approved before being taken to Parliament may not be convened until the rift is resolved.
Senior government officials said the Cabinet meeting, chaired by President Kibaki, was cancelled on Monday, a day after Mr Odinga suspended Mr Ruto and Prof Ongeri.
President Kibaki reversed the suspensions hours later, throwing the country into political jitters that have battered the Kenyan shilling. The currency hit an eight-month low on Tuesday exchanging at nearly Sh78 to the dollar.
Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura, who is also the secretary to the Cabinet, wrote to ministers on Monday informing them of the cancellation of the meeting. It was feared that the heat between PNU and ODM could spill over to the meeting, whose agenda is crafted in advance.
ODM is furious that by the President reversed the suspensions of the ministers, indicating that Mr Odinga had no powers to take disciplinary action against the ministers he supervises.
In a letter to the chairman of the African Union Commission and copied to chief mediator Kofi Annan and President Kibaki, Mr Odinga said it was urgent to convene a meeting to resolve the dispute between the two parties before a “complete paralysis” hits the government.
The party has declared a crisis in the grand coalition and announced a boycott of Cabinet meetings until the differences are resolved. On Wednesday, sources said the President was waiting for Mr Odinga to return from Japan and explain whether he was the one who directed Lands minister James Orengo to announce the boycott.
The 78 MPs at the PNU meeting at the KICC said they were waiting to find out how many ODM ministers would heed Mr Orengo’s announcement of a boycott.
Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Mutula Kilonzo criticised ODM for deciding to skip Cabinet meetings. “Cabinet meetings are meant to assist the President to reduce poverty, ensure that all children get quality education and unemployment is lowered. How can you deny this to Kenyans by boycotting Cabinet meetings? Is there something they are not telling us ?” he asked.
Presidential adviser Kivutha Kibwana has accused Mr Odinga and his advisers of plotting to create a “superficial” crisis. Referring to the letter that Mr Odinga wrote to the African Union and Mr Annan, he said ODM wanted to make it impossible for the government to work.
On Wednesday, deputy PM Musalia Mudavadi said: “The best thing is to have the Cabinet meetings suspended until the matter is resolved because of the tension in government.”
Immigration minister Otieno Kajwang’ said he was bound by the party decision not to attend the Cabinet meetings. “Now that the PM’s decision on the sacking of Cabinet ministers has been trashed, it is impossible for him and us who are members of his team to sit in Cabinet with the same ministers,” he said.
Roads minister Franklin Bett remarked: “ I am not interested in making any comment on Cabinet meetings.” Tourism minister Najib Balala said he would attend Cabinet meetings, because it was a forum for addressing national issues, not political party matters.
“Those saying we should boycott Cabinet meetings should instead make a formal request for us to withdraw from government.” He opposed ODM’s decision to invite Mr Annan, saying Kenyans could sort out their own problems. “I appeal to all political leaders to be sober and sensible and focus on the reasons we teamed up in the Grand Coalition Government.”
Cooperative Development Minister and ODM nominated MP Joseph Nyaga refused to be drawn into the conversation. “I do not want to talk politics. Please allow me to concentrate on issues affecting farmers which is what I am doing now.” He was in Eldoret and Kitale dealing with the milk glut crisis facing dairy farmers.