When President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Mrs Charity Ngilu the Lands Cabinet Secretary about seven months ago, he offered her some advice.
“Charity, tengeneza hiyo mahali. (Charity, streamline that place),” President Kenyatta said in reference to the Lands ministry, which is dogged by some of the worst corruption, theft and fraud scandals the country has seen since independence.
Mrs Ngilu had in the Kibaki administration served in the Health as well as the Water and Irrigation dockets.
Seven months into her new job, Mrs Ngilu is a woman under siege.
This week, a report on her conduct in the ministry compiled by two parliamentary committees will be presented to the House in a move that may have far-reaching consequences for her career.
In an interview with the Sunday Nation on Friday, Mrs Ngilu spoke of a witch-hunt and betrayal by people she thought were colleagues in government.
It is instructive that Mrs Ngilu’s tribulations are being engineered by members of her Jubilee Coalition led by Leader of Majority in Parliament, Mr Adan Duale.
The investigation against Mrs Ngilu is led by Jubilee Coalition MPs who are the majority in the joint Committee of Lands and Delegated Legislation. The two committees are headed by MPs Alex Muiru and William Cheptumo.
The matter was first raised in Parliament by the vice-chairman of the Delegated Legislation committee, Mr Joseph Gitari.
In recommending that Mrs Ngilu be investigated, Mr Duale argued that the minister, together with other cabinet secretaries, should not be allowed to violate the Constitution.
“We are not in Somalia; there are laws in this country. I don’t want to stand here and protect ministers who live in the old days,” said Mr Duale before the issue was referred to the committees.
As Majority leader, Mr Duale is close to President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto.
The Sunday Nation learned that Mrs Ngilu had met Mr Ruto last weekend to discuss her problems, but the outcome of their meeting is yet unknown. However, Mr Ruto is also said to have met Mr Duale and top Lands officials on the issue.
Sources said Mrs Ngilu was making frantic efforts to meet the President before the weekend as she struggles to keep her job.
“Ngilu’s position will largely depend on what she does at the weekend,” said an official familiar with the controversy, alluding to the fact that the minister’s sure option was to convince MPs not to recommend her removal from the Cabinet.
Mrs Ngilu’s appointment to the Cabinet was made courtesy of President Kenyatta’s TNA party, and she has privately said that URP was always opposed to her appointment. Mr Duale belongs to the URP wing.
So, is Mrs Ngilu’s viability in the Jubilee Cabinet half a year after she was appointed over? Has she outlived her usefulness?
URP secretary-general Fred Muteti denied reports that the party wanted Mrs Ngilu out. “On the floor of Parliament Mr Duale is playing his role as the Leader of Majority ... in any case we respect Mrs Ngilu. She is a performing cabinet secretary; we wish her a positive outcome from her current predicament.”
Mrs Ngilu says there is more than meets the eye in the goings on at her ministry which has dominated the headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past two weeks.
“There are landmines at the Lands ministry. How you survive them depends on how you dodge them,” she said.
“The truth of the matter is that there is a strong and powerful cartel at the ministry. The cartel has survived successive regimes. It is controlled by very rich individuals who can go to any length to ensure their interests prevail at whatever cost.”
She says there are people who have made money and continue to do so with impunity.
“If you try to cut their chain of supply they hit back,” she said.
“We have officials who are serving the interest of the government during the day and those of land cartels at night.”
The minister said most of her decisions at the ministry have been made in consultation with top officials.
“My decisions have never been unilateral but inclusive. For a leader to turn around and say that they were never involved at all is puzzling.”
Mrs Ngilu said she has been in Cabinet long enough and knew the problems bedevilling the Lands ministry when she took office.
“When I tried to carry on with the digitalisation process at the Lands ministry, I was frustrated. Some of our officials were in the forefront in destabilising the whole process. Those opposed to the plans knew that it would bring to an end the corruption in the system,” she says.
Asked what she plans to do to contain the cartels, Mrs Ngilu said: “Everything that has a beginning must have an end; their time will come, you cannot keep winning all the time.”
But even as the minister accused cartels of frustrating her, multiple sources in the ministry said she had taken office with a group of brokers in tow. In a way, it is the brokers’ zeal to make quick money that has landed her in the current situation.
The sources cited the scheme involving purported Kuwaiti government land in Westlands and other controversial decisions involving hundreds of acres of land in Athi River as some of the cases which could bring her down.
On Thursday, Mrs Ngilu attended a Cabinet meeting chaired by President Kenyatta. Asked if the Head of State was aware of her predicament, she said: “I doubt it.”
Mrs Ngilu’s tribulations at the ministry came to the fore when she unilaterally created the office of the director-general and appointed former Coast lands officer Peter Kang’ethe Kahuho in whom she vested the power to sign land title deeds. She reversed the decision a few days later as the political storm gathered over her move.
Previously the Commissioner of Lands had the sole powers to sign titles.
The move led Mrs Ngilu to be questioned by MPs who accused her of breaking the law by creating the office.
Mbooni MP Michael Kisoi Munyao, who sits in one of the committees investigating Mrs Ngilu, said they had completed their job and the report they arrived at will be presented to the House on Tuesday.
“Our task was to recommend action, not censure. We suggested that one, the minister de-gazette the appointment of Mr Kahuho and to reinstate all those who were sacked, and two, that she should fast-track the regulation on land reforms and bring it to Parliament so as to harmonise sensitive issues like titles deeds and separation of powers that is still a burning issue,” said Mr Munyao.
He was at one point ordered out of the parliamentary committee sittings for alleged misconduct.
He told the Sunday Nation that powerful individuals want Mrs Ngilu out of the Lands ministry.
“During the sittings that saw me forced out by the chairman, it was obvious that some members had a fixed mind regarding the type of verdict to be meted out on Ngilu. To me it appeared that the die had been cast. My interventions were rudely rejected and I was ordered out,” said the MP.
Mr Munyao said there is a powerful cartel at the Lands ministry that is pulling strings behind the scenes.
“The influence of the cartel is felt all over. I won’t be surprised if some of us are in league with them,” he said.
Mr Munyao expressed fears that there is a scheme by MPs opposed to Mrs Ngilu to introduce the word “censure” in their report on Tuesday.
“If this is done, then Mrs Ngilu will be in hot soup,” he said.
“In Parliament there is the Cord brigade that has not forgiven her for backing the Jubilee Coalition in the run-up to the March 4 General Election. Then there is a group of Jubilee MPs who also want her out. This combination can be devastating.”
Sunday Nation asked Mrs Ngilu whether her bosses were aware of her actions in the ministry given that former Lands Commissioner Zablon Mabea was a presidential appointee.
The minister said she had consulted widely.
“I just can’t wake up one day and force my decisions on people the way some fellows want it to appear.”
Asked why she has been left to stand alone, Mrs Ngilu replied: “It’s betrayal.”
She said Mr Mabea had told her that he was sick and could not perform his job effectively with regard to signing of titles.
“But Mr Mabea disowned me when he appeared before the commission, saying he was as fit as a fiddle,” said Mrs Ngilu.
Mr Mabea could not be reached for comment.