Opposition leader Raila Odinga on Monday described Deputy President William Ruto as “the high priest of corruption in Kenya”, in an unprecedented escalation of the war of words over the Uganda sugar deals.
Speaking at the end of a two-day strategy meeting of the Orange Democratic Movement in Maanzoni, Machakos County, Mr Odinga struck back at Mr Ruto, who had earlier quipped that the Cord boss owed Mumias Sugar Company money.
Mr Odinga accused Mr Ruto of being the architect of the problems facing the sugar industry because he allegedly issued import licences to sugar barons when he was minister for Agriculture.
“Right now we are talking about the Uganda-Kenya sugar deal, so the high priest of corruption in Kenya should not divert our attention to other issues,” he said.
“He is the one who used to give licences to people who were importing sugar,” the Cord leader added.
The ODM team also demanded to know the number of licences issued by suspended Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Felix Koskei, whose appointment was proposed by Mr Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP).
“We want to know how many licences the Agriculture CS has issued since he is a Ruto man,” said Suna East MP Junet Mohammed.
This comes a day after Mr Ruto spoke in Matungu, Kakamega County, about government plans to revive Mumias and other sugar factories.
The DP also accused the Cord leader of owing millions to the once leading miller in the country, which is now on its knees.
He had challenged vocal Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale to ask his colleagues in the Cord coalition to pay the millions they owe Mumias.
“I saw my friend Khalwale at a press conference with some of the people who owe Mumias Sugar millions of shillings and I thought he would tell them to pay up the debts,” he said.
“Those playing sugar politics to gain political mileage will not succeed, they are the same people who brought Mumias Sugar to its knees and are now purporting to champion its cause,” he said.
Mr Ruto was leading the Jubilee coalition's offensive to minimise the erosion of the political gains they had made in western Kenya, while Mr Odinga is fighting to retain his dominance in the region.
The Deputy President served as Agriculture minister in the Grand Coalition Government before he was “suspended” and finally kicked out by Mr Odinga, who was the PM.
Mr Junet urged Mr Ruto not to personalise the sugar war with Mr Odinga, saying: “This should not look like it is the difference between Ruto and the former PM who was once his employer.”
Mr Odinga spoke at the end of a two-day retreat that brought together ODM members of Parliament, governors and the National Executive Council members.
According to the party’s leadership, the meeting was meant to review the party’s scorecard in the last half of the 11th Parliament.
The controversial Uganda-Kenya sugar deal was discussed at length, with the party members demanding that the government revoke the deal.