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Leader of Interior Department Resigns Under Cloud of Ethics – World – Pulselive.co.ke

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“Secretary of the Interior @RyanZinke will be leaving the Administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

“Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation.” The president said he would name a replacement this coming week.

Zinke is the latest Trump official to exit an administration plagued by questions of ethical conflict. And his departure comes as Trump has begun a shake-up in his administration. In early November, the president fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and last weekend he announced that his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, was leaving.

In one of the final acts of Kelly’s tenure, his team told Zinke that he should leave by year’s end or risk being fired in a potentially humiliating way, two people familiar with the discussion said.

Trump has been looking at replacing a number of other Cabinet officials. He has been telling associates for weeks that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will be leaving now that the midterm elections are over, and he has also frequently complained about Betsy DeVos, the education secretary. The homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, is also seen as likely to depart soon.

But Trump is aware that the confirmation processes for any new nominees are likely to be more contentious in the second half of his term, as he faces re-election.

Zinke, a former Montana congressman and member of the Navy SEALs known for riding an Irish sport horse through Washington on his first day in office, oversaw mineral extraction and conservation on roughly 500 million acres of public land. He had become the subject of several federal investigations, one of which his department’s top watchdog has referred to the Justice Department, a potential step toward a criminal investigation.

The inquiries include an examination of a real estate deal involving Zinke’s family and a development group backed by the Halliburton chairman, David J. Lesar. Zinke stood to benefit from the deal, while Lesar’s oil services company stood to benefit from Zinke’s decisions on fossil fuel production.

Zinke has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. “I love working for the President and am incredibly proud of all the good work we’ve accomplished together,” he said on Twitter. “However, after 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations.”

Trump had tolerated the seemingly endless drips of scandal surrounding Zinke in part because he liked him personally and in part because his focus on the Cabinet was concentrated on his desire to oust Sessions.

At the same time, though, Trump disliked the bad press that was amassing for Zinke, given how it reflected on him personally. And as the incoming House Democratic majority made clear that Zinke would be a prime target, Trump’s aides convinced him that the time had come to shove out Zinke.

A few months ago, the White House Counsel’s Office indicated to some West Wing aides that officials would be less likely to be subpoenaed by the new House majority if they left before the new Congress was sworn in in January. That has helped speed up the departures of several.

“This is no kind of victory, but I’m hopeful that it is a genuine turning of the page,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., who as the incoming chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee has repeatedly tangled with Zinke. He added, “The next interior secretary should respect the American people’s desire for strong environmental standards and an end to corporate favoritism.”

Zinke’s exit follows that of the other major architect of the Trump administration’s environmental policies, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, also known for his aggressive rollback of environmental regulations, resigned in July amid questions about alleged spending abuses, first-class travel and cozy relationships with lobbyists. Among other actions, Pruitt came under fire for reaching out to the chief executive of Chick-fil-A with the intent of helping his wife open a franchise.

Beyond examining the real estate deal, the Interior Department’s inspector general had faulted Zinke for allowing his wife, Lola, to travel in government vehicles, contrary to department policy, and chided him for using $12,000 in taxpayer money to take a charter plane after a talk to a hockey team owned by one of his biggest donors.

The inspector general has also been examining the secretary’s decision to block two Native American tribes from opening a casino in Connecticut after his office received heavy lobbying from MGM Resorts International. The entertainment giant had been planning its own casino not far from the proposed tribal one.

Delaney Marsco, ethics counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said Zinke’s actions had sometimes been overshadowed by Pruitt’s more obvious fumbles. That let the secretary operate in an “ethical Wild West,” she said.

“There are these laws and these ethical norms that are being blown to bits by these Cabinet secretaries,” Marsco said. “And that’s the pattern, the problem, that keeps us up at night.”

The federal investigations follow several other examinations of Zinke’s behavior. He has been criticized for claiming on dozens of occasions that he is a geologist, though he has never held a job as one. When he was a candidate for Congress, campaign finance experts questioned whether it was legal for him to benefit from a super PAC he had created. And as a Navy SEAL, he admitted to improperly billing the government $211 for a trip home to Montana, something that two admirals told The New York Times prevented him from rising to senior levels in the Navy.

Zinke’s resignation, rather than an end to his pro-fossil fuel policies, quite likely signals a passing of the playbook. Zinke’s deputy, David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, is expected to step in as acting head of the department.

Zinke, 57, grew up in Whitefish, Montana, a timber and tourism town at the edge of Glacier National Park. When he took charge of the Interior Department, he promised that his youth in the West would help him balance conservation and extraction on the land in his care. Much of that land is in the West, and it includes the national parks and monuments that have become the nation’s environmental icons.

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With his flashy leadership style and aggressive approach to deregulation, Zinke had largely escaped the public thrashing that Trump has directed at other Cabinet members. But in recent weeks the president had signaled that the secretary’s tenure might be coming to end, possibly as a result of the ethics inquiries.

“I do want to study whatever is being said,” Trump said at a news conference Nov. 7, referring to the investigations into Zinke. “I think he’s doing an excellent job, but we will take a look at that, and we’ll probably have an idea on that in about a week.”

Zinke was considered a surprise choice for the position. He had reportedly gained favor with Donald Trump Jr., because, like the president’s son, he is an avid game hunter.

Zinke ran the office with a swaggering flair that won him the admiration of the president and conservative Westerners, many of whom applauded his effort to move major department operations to places like Denver or Boise, Idaho. But his style also drew derision from the environmental community and the quiet mockery of many career staff members in his own agency.

In Washington, he flew a special interior secretary flag above the Interior building when he was present, and he often skipped a coat and tie for fishing shirts and boots. Beyond the capital, he hiked and rode across landscapes in a cowboy hat, even as he pushed plans to drastically reduce monument boundaries.

In June, Politico reported that Lesar, the Halliburton chairman, was lending financial backing to a major development in Zinke’s hometown, Whitefish, that would significantly raise the value of property owned by Zinke. The development would include a hotel, shops and a brewery, and Zinke’s wife had pledged in writing to allow the developer to build a parking lot that would help make the project possible. The land for the potential lot is owned by a foundation created by Zinke.

Because Halliburton is the nation’s largest oil services company, and because Zinke regulates the oil industry on public land, the deal raised questions as to whether it constituted a conflict of interest. Zinke’s schedule also showed that he had hosted Lesar and a developer involved with the hotel-brewery project in his secretarial office in 2017.

In response, three Democrats sent a letter to the Interior Department’s top watchdog, Mary L. Kendall, requesting an investigation into whether Zinke had used his position as secretary for personal financial gain. In July, Kendall complied, opening an investigation. In October, her department forwarded at least one inquiry to the Justice Department.

Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Zinke, has said that the secretary did nothing wrong and that he resigned from his charitable foundation’s board of directors before the deal was made.

Before Zinke joined the Trump administration, he often called himself a conservative conservationist. But as secretary, he quickly became one of the chief proponents of Trump’s energy-first agenda, promoting policies that seek to open the East Coast to offshore drilling, weaken the standards of the Endangered Species Act and shrink two national monuments, constituting the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history.

Last year under Zinke, the United States offered up 12.8 million acres of federally controlled oil and gas parcels for lease, triple the average offered during President Barack Obama’s second term, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

These policies won Zinke favor with Trump, who had made promotion of the fossil fuel industry a key part of his campaign platform, as well as from the oil and gas companies that had increasingly made up Zinke’s donor base as a Montana politician.

His policies have angered environmentalists, who have filed lawsuits trying to block these plans. Many have argued Zinke has turned his back on the nation’s environmental heritage just as dire news about climate change has made land, water and air protection increasingly urgent.

The likely replacement by Bernhardt of his former boss in an acting capacity echoes events that followed the resignation of Pruitt at the EPA. Pruitt, once a favorite of Trump’s for many of the same reasons as Zinke, was replaced in an acting capacity by his deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist with a low profile and a deep knowledge of the agency he ran and the regulations he sought to undo.

While Zinke spent his tenure as the face of many of the Trump administration’s efforts, many on the inside saw Bernhardt as the effective manager who was able to push policies through. Bernhardt, with years of experience in the George W. Bush administration, and as a former lawyer and lobbyist for some of the nation’s largest oil companies, brings a deep insider’s knowledge to his job that Zinke lacked. His former legal clients included the Independent Petroleum Association of America and Halliburton.

Since his Senate confirmation last summer, Bernhardt has generated criticism from environmental and government watchdog groups that his new role will create a conflict of interest, as he oversees proposals that could directly benefit his former clients.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Julie Turkewitz and Coral Davenport © 2018 The New York Times



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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