Turf wars have rocked President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Cabinet following his elevation of Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to oversee all national development projects.
The Star has established that a number of CSs, some allied to Uhuru, some to DP William Ruto, are unhappy with the new arrangement which essentially makes hard-headed, results-oriented Matiang’i their boss.
Despite the disquiet, Matiang’i yesterday chaired his first meeting of six Cabinet secretaries and top political leaders from Nyanza.
The meeting reviewed an implementation plan for stalled, ongoing and new regional projects following Uhuru’s directive after his tour of Kisumu last month. The meeting was the clearest signal that political leaders may never flock to Ruto’s office again to seek development and other benefits.
Last week, Uhuru established a four-tier executive authority with Matiang’i as the head of the powerful National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee. The Cabinet subcommittee has sweeping powers and pundits say the elevation makes Matiang’i ‘Chief Minister’, greatly diminishing the Deputy President’s influence in government.
Five of the 21 Cabinet Secretaries told the Star in confidence they were opposed to the new order and said the move is not anchored in law.
Two of the CSs are allied to Uhuru, while three are Ruto’s men.
“As per the law, we are all equal, we are all performers. How will a colleague write to us asking us to brief him on the projects we are undertaking?” one CS asked, seeking anonymity for fear of reprisal.
He went on, “Let us wait and see how this thing will roll out, but I can assure you that not all is well. There are simmering tensions seeking a vent and trump cards waiting to be played.”
Some sources said even before the President issued the Executive Order, the Interior ministry had already written to all Ministries requesting a list of all projects they were undertaking, their status, location and cost.
It’s not clear whether the cold reception impelled Uhuru to issue the Executive Order to make his directive legally binding.
Constitution Article 132 ( 3 ) gives the President powers to direct and coordinate functions of ministries and government departments.
Yesterday, however, six CSs attended the first meeting at Harambee House with Matiang’i as the chair.
In attendance were Simon Chelugui (Water), James Macharia (Transport and Infrastructure), Treasury Chief Administrative Secretary Nelson Gaichuhie, Mwangi Kiunjuri (Agriculture) and Joe Mucheru (ICT).
Government spokesman Eric Kiraithe said he was not aware of any disquiet.
He emphasised, however, that it’s the President’s prerogative to reorganise his government in any way for efficient services.
Kiraithe said inter-ministerial forums are critical since most of government projects are cut across different sectors.
“Anybody opposed to the order has little experience in government…During construction of Phase I of the standard gauge railway, the President had to supervise the work himself. That is not the work of the President,” the spokesman said.
Under the new order, Matiang’i will report directly to Uhuru and will be deputised by Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich.
In a separate executive order, Uhuru also transferred the management and co-ordination of the National Transport and Safety Authority to the Interior Ministry.
The NTSA is charged with motor vehicle registration and certification, among other tasks that were under the giant Transport ministry under CS James Macharia.
Some CSs have called Matiang’i ‘overbearing’, ‘abrasive’ and say at times he oversteps his mandate’.
In the Transport ministry, a senior source told the Star that resentment erupted late last year following the government decision to strictly implement tough traffic laws, known as the ‘Michuki rules’.
Matiang’i became the face of the crackdown and he made impromptu checks at roadblocks to ensure enforcement.
In June last year when the National Assembly was investigating importation of contraband sugar, Matiang’i and his then Industrialisation counterpart Adan Mohamed publicly disagreed over claims there were traces of mercury in the impounded sugar.
Matiang’i had announced that the sugar contained mercury, quoting tests from the Government Chemist. Adan rejected them.
Adan was transferred to the Ministry of East African Community.
Sources also say the Education and Transport ministries have been unhappy with Matiang’i’s heavy hand.
Discontent in the Education ministry stems from Matiang’i placing himself at the centre of the administration of national examinations, even after his exit.
The ministry of Interior had the responsibility of protecting the national examinations.
DRUNK WITH POWER
Senior ministry officials also see Matiang’i’s hand in the push to roll out the new curriculum, even after CS Amina Mohamed publicly stated that the ministry and others were not ready.
Amina later made a quick about-face and announced that the project would proceed, to the dismay of education stakeholders.
Nominated MP David Sankok said the CSs “should not feel intimidated as Matiang’i is doing his work”, saying they are all still answerable to the appointing authority, the President.
“There is nothing to fear unless they are suffering from inferiority complex.The President did what he should have done in 2013 when he took over. The ole of that Ministry is clear: Interior and National Government Coordination. Therefore, they are all equal, no one is lesser,” he told the Star on the phone.
He caution Matiang’i not to be “drunk with power”, saying he is still answerable to Deputy President William Ruto under the presidency.