Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Head of Civil Service Francis Muthaura resigned their positions on Thursday after a four-hour meeting with President Kibaki.
Their meeting with President Kibaki came three days after International Criminal Court (ICC) judges ruled that they — along with two other Kenyans — had a case to answer arising from the violence triggered by a dispute over the 2007 General Election. (READ: Judges: How Uhuru bankrolled violence)
Nairobi Metropolitan Development minister Robinson Njeru Githae takes Mr Kenyatta’s place at the Treasury in an acting capacity while Mr Muthaura’s office will be held temporarily by Internal Security permanent secretary Francis Kimemia.
During the Harambee House meeting, it is understood that the two informed the President that they wished to step aside pending the outcome of the appeals. (READ: ODM legislators now want Uhuru, Muthaura sacked)
The President accepted the requests after which a statement was issued to the media.
“The President has accepted the decision by Uhuru Kenyatta to step aside as the minister for Finance. However Mr Kenyatta will retain his position of Deputy Prime Minister in accordance with the Constitution,” a brief from the Presidential Press Services (PPS) stated.
“The President has also accepted the decision by Dr Francis K. Muthaura to step aside as Permanent Secretary, Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Public Service,” the PPS added.
Mr Mutea Iringo, a deputy secretary at the Office of the President, will act as the Internal Security PS.
The decision by Mr Kenyatta and Mr Muthaura, two close confidants of President Kibaki, came on the back of fears that the two would hold fast to their positions. (READ: Uhuru, Muthaura can remain in office, AG)
Sources close to the two said they had decided to bite the bullet and step aside to devote more time with their defence teams fighting off charges of crimes against humanity they face at The Hague.
On Monday, a three-judge bench of the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber confirmed charges of murder, rape, deportation, torture and persecutions which were brought against them by The Hague Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
The judges also confirmed charges against Eldoret MP William Ruto and Kass FM radio presenter Joshua arap Sang. While Mr Ruto, Mr Muthaura and Mr Sang came out to declare their intention to appeal against the ruling, Mr Kenyatta has not appeared in public.
The ruling triggered a stream of calls for resignation from lawyers, the civil society, political rivals and activists. Earlier yesterday, sources close to Prime Minister Raila Odinga said ministers from the ODM wing of the coalition government were likely to boycott cabinet meetings if Mr Kenyatta and Mr Muthaura did not resign.
Even after the resignations, Lands minister James Orengo and joint chief whip Jakoyo Midiwo demanded that Mr Kenyatta also steps down as deputy PM.
“That (remaining as deputy PM) is still untenable. The law is not about the docket but somebody holding public office. The half-hearted action by Uhuru is not acceptable,” said Mr Orengo.
Mr Midiwo said the deputy PM position was a public office which the Gatundu South MP has to vacate. “It is also a public office. How can he hold it?” he asked.
The decision by President Kibaki to accept requests to step aside from his confidants signals the seriousness with which the government is taking the ruling of the ICC.
Prof Michael Chege, a policy analyst at the Ministry of Planning, says Mr Kenyatta’s resignation will have minimal impact on Treasury’s activities, as technocrats largely drive the ministry’s decisions and day-to-day activities.
“Although, he was quick to grasp issues related to the Treasury since he took over, operations at the ministry will go on as usual,” Prof Chege said, adding. “The only missing link will be his political leadership especially with Treasury’s connection to Parliament”. Prof Chege, however, added that this is a sign of the country’s maturing democracy.
“Kenyans are getting accustomed to more and more people resigning and this is a sign of a maturing democracy,” he said.
Economic analyst Robert Shaw says that the process of preparing the country’s 2012/2013 Financial Year budget is ongoing now, which requires the Finance minister’s maximum attention.
“I commend him for stepping aside due to the many other commitments he has right now. This gives the next minister sufficient time to take the process of preparing the country’s next budget,” Mr Shaw said.
Meanwhile, the 10-member team which was named by Attorney General Githu Muigai to advise the government on how to deal with the ICC will hold its first meeting on Monday, it has emerged.
It is understood Mr Kenyatta consulted widely on Monday and Tuesday with his lawyers, political friends and confidants before deciding to step aside. Sources said the decision will free time for him to concentrate on the case and his presidential campaigns.
Among those he met were Mr Ruto, Cabinet minister Soita Shitanda and MPs Eugene Wamalwa and Musikari Kombo.
As a sign of the determination to seek the presidency, he will join Mr Ruto today at a prayer rally in Eldoret.
On Saturday, the team moves to Ruiru for another rally.