Handshake in limbo as broke task force fails to kick off its activities

Sunday August 19 2018

 Raila Odinga

Opposition leader Raila Odinga (right) and Kisii Governor James Ongwae (centre) arrive at Gusii Stadium for the closing ceremony of KICOSCA games on August 18, 2018. PHOTO | BENSON MOMANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

JUSTUS WANGA
By JUSTUS WANGA
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President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s Building Bridges Initiative is in limbo following the failure by the National Treasury to release funds.

The cash crunch means several activities which had been lined up by the Building the Bridges to Unity Advisory Task Force are at a risk of stalling.

Among the casualties of the lack of funds is a national conference on corruption which had been scheduled for Bomas of Kenya early this month but had to be called off at the last minute.

The conference was expected to bring together selected Kenyans from all counties to give views on high-level corruption in the country.

While no member of the task force was willing to go on record discussing the budgetary proposals they had forwarded to the exchequer, we gathered that it stood close to Sh350 million given its mandate that runs for one year and the many activities lined up.

BUDGETARY CONSTRAINTS

The budgetary constraints come amid growing fears that powerful forces in government opposed to the handshake could be pulling the strings to frustrate the outfit chaired by Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji.

The task force presented its work plan to Mr Odinga on August 2 at his Capitol Hill offices in Nairobi.

But the fact that nobody wanted to take responsibility for the delay could be an illustration of the opaqueness in which the body is operating.

Given the development, it remains to be seen whether a resolution arrived at during a four-day retreat to embark on nationwide visits to interact with the masses will materialise.

Lack of a spacious office with conferencing facilities for the expanded team has forced the task force to hold its meetings in hotels.

STATE HOUSE

On Saturday, National Treasury mandarins declined to comment on the matter, instead referring the Sunday Nation to State House.

State House, in turn, sent us back to the joint secretary of the taskforce, Ambassador Martin Kimani, who did not respond to our enquiry.

“The only place you can get that information is the State House since this is a presidential initiative,” Interior Spokesman Mwenda Njoka said.

Acting State House Spokesperson Kanze Dena stated; “Ambassador Kimani will be of help. That’s his domain.”

A high-ranking Treasury staffer questioned the practicality of such funds coming from their docket, but said off-the-record for fear of being seen to sabotage a presidential initiative.

“This is a political thing, I don’t think Treasury can agree to such an arrangement, maybe the Interior Ministry would do through the Confidential Account. Which vote would we use and how would we control or manage it?” the officer posed.

TASK FORCE

Neither National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich nor the Principal Secretary Kamau Thugge was available for comment even after sending them short text messages.

But Mr Paul Mwangi, the co-secretary from Mr Odinga’s side, sought to downplay the state of affairs saying they were fully operational.

“We have an office at the 15th floor of the National Hospital Insurance Fund building that is sufficient for now and a drop off point for written memoranda on the 12th floor of the KICC. We are getting funding from the government,” he said.

He could not, however, state how much they had received from the exchequer since the gazettement of the Task Force.

Insider sources told the Sunday Nation that Treasury had initially told officials of the task force that they would be funded by June 30 before the date was revised to July 15 which also lapsed before the money could be availed. This lapse was occasioned by the fact that Mr Kenyatta gazetted the body after the budget had been prepared, a fact even Mr Mwangi confirmed.

OPPOSED INITIATIVE

“They have had to re-allocate the budget,” the lawyer said.

Senator Haji said he was not in a position to furnish us with any information on the Task Force’s programme of activities, noting he had been out of the country for a while.

“Let me settle down and catch up. I will be able to answer you after one week,” he said.

News that the Building Bridges initiative is in limbo could come as music to the ears of a section of the political class, mainly allied to Deputy President William Ruto who have openly voiced their opposition to the initiative.

The group comprising elected leaders from Mr Ruto’s Rift Valley backyard have claimed the initiative was designed to elbow their man out of the 2022 presidential race.

BACKDOOR

Senators Samson Cherargei (Nandi), Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo Marakwet) and Aaron Cheruiyot (Kericho) have repeatedly said the initiative is to help Mr Odinga sneak into the 2022 race through the backdoor at the expense of the Deputy President.

Amid talk of changing the constitution ahead of the next General Election, Mr Ruto has said he would oppose such a move were the advisory team to recommend it in its final submissions to the President.

On Friday, Mr Odinga gestured that he could equally embrace the DP in their effort to unite the country when he said, “I have been building bridges with all the presidents Kenya has ever had starting with retired President Daniel arap Moi, Mwai Kibaki as well as the current Head of State Uhuru Kenyatta. I am determined to close ranks with every one including Deputy President William Ruto.”

LASTING SOLUTIONS

The bridges team has been tasked with finding lasting solutions to shared objectives of tackling ethnic antagonism and competition, lack of national ethos, inclusivity, devolution, safety and security and corruption.

The handshake has had far-reaching ramifications on the country’s political architecture.

A muzzled civil society following a concerted State crackdown in the run-up to the last General Election and now an opposition in disarray after Mr Odinga joined forces with the President has meant that nobody is left to offer the checks and balances role.

Members of the task force are Dr Adams Oloo, Agnes Kavindu, Busia Senator Amos Wako, Florence Omose, Saeed Mwanguni, James Matundura, Major (rtd) John Seii, Bishop Lawi Imathiu and Samburu Woman Representative Maison Leshomo. Others are Morompi ole Ronkai, Bishop Peter Njenga, Rose Moseu and Zaccheaus Okoth.