Opposition leader Raila Odinga, in a rare convergence of thought with Deputy President William Ruto, Tuesday suggested that Cabinet Secretaries should also sit in Parliament as part of constitutional reforms to enhance governance and accountability.
The proposal, if adopted by Kenyans, will see the President pick some or all members of Cabinet from Parliament.
The current Constitution depoliticises the Executive arm of government by barring the President from having politicians in his Cabinet.
“I believe the composition of Cabinet needs to change to include MPs,” Mr Odinga told the Nation, shortly after he met representatives of Kenyans of Asian descent at his Capitol Hill Square office.
“But let Kenyans openly debate the options because, at the end of the day, it is the people who shall decide,” he said.
The thinking stems from a feeling that, as currently constituted, ministers, being direct appointees of the President, rarely interact with Parliament.
The proponents of Mr Odinga’s line of thought argue that this way of running State affairs creates a disconnect between the Executive and Legislative arms of government.
Mr Odinga, in principle, agrees with the suggestion by Dr Ruto that Cabinet Secretaries should be accountable to Parliament, but the two differ on modalities.
While Mr Odinga suggests that the ministers should be picked from sitting MPs, Dr Ruto, in a public address at Chatham House in the United Kingdom on February 8 this year, noted that they should be “ex-officio members of Parliament” who “must attend sittings of Parliament at least once every week and whenever required to answer questions on the floor of the House”.
However, it appears that having ministers sit in Parliament is the only convergence of thought and ideas between the Orange Democratic Movement leader and the Deputy President as far as the referendum debate is concerned.
Whereas Mr Odinga has expressed support for a parliamentary system of government, the DP has maintained — as recently as last week — that the suggestion is only meant to create positions for election losers, an apparent jibe at Mr Odinga, who lost the last two elections to President Kenyatta.
Mr Odinga has, however, disagreed with this line of argument, as well as the criticism that his push for a referendum is designed to give him and Mr Kenyatta new leases of political life.
In fact, Mr Odinga has in the recent past said that he is not interested in running for the presidency in 2022.
Those in the Deputy President’s camp believe Mr Odinga is positioning himself to succeed Mr Kenyatta, and so he is laying the groundwork now for a smooth time at the helm. But, as Dr Ruto is also angling for the same seat, they would like the current, slightly more powerful Presidency to continue beyond Mr Kenyatta.
Dr Ruto, while agreeing that the referendum debate is perhaps inevitable, told the BBC in London a week ago that he has misgivings about its timing.
“Do we have the resources to do the census this year, a boundary review next year, an election in 2022, and a referendum in between?” he posed, before adding: “Is it reasonable?”
Yesterday the Minority Whip in the National Assembly, Mr Junet Mohamed, said it was encouraging that Dr Ruto “acknowledges that something must be done about the current structure of governance” and so “we can begin to engage from there”.
Mr Odinga, in his address to the delegation of about 20 people led by politician Farah Mannzoor Tuesday, said no community should be left behind as the country gears towards a new constitutional order.
“The Asian community has played a key role in post-independence Kenya. You remember the likes of Pio Gama Pinto and (Manilal) Desai? No single community is in this country by invitation from another. We are all here by right and each one of us has a unique role play in nation building.”
Mr Pinto was a Kenyan journalist, politician and freedom fighter who, later in his life, dedicated his time and effort to the freedom struggle. He is regarded as independent Kenya’s first martyr, in 1965.
Mr Desai, on the other hand, moved to Kenya from the Gujarat village of Gotalawadi to work as a managing clerk at a Kenyan law firm before joining the Nairobi Indian Association, where he launched his political career.
He served in the East African Indian National Congress, edited the East African Chronicle, and became a member of the Legislative Council in 1925. He died of heart failure in Bukoba, Tanzania, a year later, in 1926.