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Kenyans Concerned About Growing Number of Ministries

An end to the impasse over the composition of Kenya's new power-sharing government may be at hand. But many Kenyans are frustrated by the expanded size of the proposed cabinet. For VOA, Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi.

As part of a deal brokered by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in February following disputed elections, Kenya's two main parties agreed to evenly share control of the ministries in a new power-sharing government.

Yesterday, President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, who is set to fill the new office of prime minister, agreed to name a cabinet of 40 ministers, an increase from the 34 in the previous government.

The announcement has come as a disappointment to many who had called for a smaller cabinet, saying that 34 ministries - let alone 44 - would be a waste of resources.

Gladwell Otieno, director of the Africa Center for Open Governance has been one of the most vocal proponents of reducing the number of ministries.

"What's happened in the end is that realpolitik has prevailed and patronage has prevailed," said Otieno. "Horse trading has gone on, debts have to be paid and friends have to be rewarded. Politicians must be pampered and they've created a massive cabinet."

Otieno says she had hoped that Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement, or ODM, would stick to its position of not increasing the size of the cabinet.

Some members of ODM felt similarly. Ababu Namwamba is one of the many new ODM lawmakers elected in December on a wave of dissatisfaction with the previous government's failure to effect reforms.

"I want to join other Kenyans in expressing my disappointment with the size of this cabinet which definitely was unnecessary," said Namwamba. "The least Kenyans expected was retention of the size of the cabinet which was 34. But to raise it to 40 is definitely uncalled for and extravagant."

Stephen Lugalia, chairman of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya, criticized the large amount of money that will be required to sustain the new bureaucracy.

"We are looking at a minister for example taking home just over a million shillings and this is just the direct salary cost," said Lugalia. "Of course there is institutional cost also. The office setup, the motor vehicles and as you know the Kenyan ministers will want to have one or two cars. If you put together all that cost it's going to be enormous."

The monthly salary of one million shillings is roughly $15,000. Kenyan media have reported estimated costs for the new government at roughly $5.5 billion a year, an increase of over $800 million from the current cost.

Critics say a developing country like Kenya cannot afford such costs in good times, and especially not when the country is still dealing with the economic impact of the recent post-election violence.

Tiberius Barasa is a researcher at the Insitute for Policy Research and Analysis in Nairobi.

"Our economy is struggling and cannot sustain it given what has happened in terms of the shocks we received after the December election," said Barasa. "Many people are still displaced. They need to be assisted. The roads are in a pathetic situation. And yet we are allocating all this money to the salaries of the ministers."

Meanwhile, in a reminder of the continuing threat of unrest in the country, the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch released a report on the situation in the country's western Mt. Elgon area, where a military operation is targeting a militia group blamed for hundreds of killings in the past two years in a conflict over land distribution. The group charged both the military and the militia, known as the Sabaot Land Defense Force with war crimes.

The report says that while the Mt. Elgon conflict predates the recent elections, the militia was involved in election-related violence.