As President Uhuru Kenyatta was placing a moratorium on new projects in government until old ones are completed, his deputy, Mr William Ruto, was launching a medical college in Kakamega County, raising questions as to whether the two leaders were reading from the same script.
Mr Ruto’s handlers maintain that the launch of the college had been planned beforehand. However, that the President and his deputy were reading from different scripts could also point to simmering differences not seen since the two were first elected to office in 2013.
Mr Ruto has in the past told journalists that he and President Kenyatta consult regularly and he is always in the loop when the President is announcing decisions to the public.
However, there appears to be instances when there have been exceptions.
President Kenyatta issued the new projects freeze directive while addressing all government accounting officers, including Principal Secretaries, Parastatal Heads, Vice Chancellors of Public Universities and Chairmen of State Corporations during a meeting at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi. But as he was doing this, his deputy was launching one such project almost 400 kilometres from the capital.
While Mr Kenyatta said the directive was aimed at stopping wastage of resources and the trend among government agencies of abandoning incomplete projects before jumping onto others, the interpretation among the Deputy President’s men is that Mr Ruto could be the target because he has been launching numerous projects for a while now in well-publicised tours of various parts of the country.
“There will be no new projects that will be embarked on until you complete those that are ongoing,” said the President.
President Kenyatta warned that government officials who embark on new projects before finishing ongoing initiatives without authorisation will be held responsible.
On the same day, Mr Ruto told residents of Navakholo Constituency that the government would equip the local campus this September in readiness for the admission of students in January next year.
Away from the new projects freeze, Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen was rebuffed by the provincial administration in Narok when he tried to take building materials to the Mau Forest evictees.
Mr Murkomen has in recent days come under sharp criticism from the President’s allies for what they said was disrespect to the Head of State.
He has been on the spotlight for appearing to disparage the handshake between the President and Mr Odinga.
And on Saturday, Narok County Commissioner George Natembeya stopped him from driving into the part of the Mau land where settlers were evicted to conserve the water tower. Mr Natembeya said the settlers could take the materials, but not for building in the forest.
Mr Murkomen had asked illegal settlers from Kosia and Nkoben areas to go back to their homes in the Mau forest and threatened police officers conducting the evictions with disciplinary action.
Mr Murkomen was unapologetic on Saturday.
“If by standing with the poor, the weak and the young children who are suffering in Mau, I am being disrespectful, then I am guilty as charged,” said Mr Murkomen at Kitoben in Narok South.
Mr Murkomen, who is among the senior Jubilee politicians from the Rift Valley, has also opposed President Kenyatta’s directive on lifestyle audit intended to stem corruption.
“It will be unfortunate if a policy that is intended to protect public resources is reduced to political fights,” the Senate Majority Leader told the Sunday Nation yesterday.
He also defended Mr Ruto’s numerous tours to launch projects.
“When the DP visits villages and towns to launch, supervise or commission government projects he does so for the benefit of the people and with the same intention that the projects are completed. We all want government projects to be done to completion not just to be launched,” Mr Murkomen said.
A look at social media posts from Mr Ruto shows that every weekend, if he is not contributing to harambees in churches, he is initiating a development project in different parts of the country.
The President’s directive means that Mr Ruto may now have his options limited and this could weaken his forays because he can only inspect ongoing projects.
That also means he and other politicians cannot make promises that they will launch new projects. To do that, they will need the express, written authority of the National Treasury.
The recent developments came amid speculation about further possible changes in the Cabinet as the war against corruption gathers pace.
However, some of President Kenyatta’s senior advisors are deeply concerned that the ongoing crackdown on graft in high places could considerably weaken his government. They are mostly concerned by the politicisation of the purge that has seen many government officials arraigned in court.
The President’s handlers, some who are privy to the evidence in the possession of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI), have reportedly warned that going for some of those linked to corruption could trigger an implosion in government and the ruling party.
The new stance stems from the latest information that DCI could be toying with the idea of getting Mr Kenyatta’s approval to go for two of his Cabinet Secretaries.
While Mr Kenyatta has said that he is ready to go it all the way, some of his men are of the view that this should not been done at the expense of his hold onto the instruments of power.
UP IN ARMS
Some politicians leaning towards Mr Ruto have been up in arms, claiming that government officers from Rift Valley were being unfairly targeted in the operation yet these were the very people that the Jubilee Party relied on to deliver votes in the last elections.
They have also been asking why some of those perceived in some of the scandals.
Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina would not be drawn to the political interpretation of the President’s directive and whether it would hurt Mr Ruto going forward but said the news was good to suppliers and contractors.
“Suppliers and contractors will now be paid in good time because the government will operate within the Budget and with specific controls,” he said.
Before the order on new projects, Mr Kenyatta’s directive to have senior government officials undergo a lifestyle audit had elicited sharp reactions with politicians oscillating around the DP publicly opposing it.
The ongoing eviction of squatters in Mau Forest is another frontier of faceoff between Mr Kenyatta’s allies and those of his deputy. On Friday, Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, the former TNA chairman, hit out at Mr Murkomen over his remarks which appeared aimed at the President and Mr Odinga.
And yesterday, Igembe North MP Maore Maoka called for the removal of Mr Murkomen from the position of Senate Majority Leader over the same remarks.
“The kind of tantrums he was throwing purporting to be angry with the Mau evictions went personal with the President. He is supposed to be the face and the voice of government,” Mr Maoka said.
Some leaders in Jubilee believe there is a problem between the President and his deputy but are of the view that there is an attempt to drive a wedge between the two.
“The relationship between the President and the Deputy President remains intact despite the best efforts of some people to break it,” said Nandi senator Samson Cherargei.
According to him, there are people who have been working day and night to see that DP does not become president one day.
“We call them Runda group,” he said.
And not everyone believes that the Friday directive on suspending new projects is meant to hurt the Deputy President. United States International University don Professor Macharia Munene is one of them. He said it was difficult to interpret the President’s directive as meant to hurt Mr Ruto politically.
“No one has stopped the Deputy President from checking on ongoing projects. The President’s directive must have been informed by public outcry that projects remain unfinished and new ones started. The President’s directive can be viewed as being the part of proper public interests management,” he said.
Additional reporting by David Muchui