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Kenyan PM Declares 'Crisis' in Power-Sharing Deal

  • Alan Boswell

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki (c) and Prime Minister Raila Odinga (r) greeting the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, ahead of their meeting in Nairobi (Nov 2009 file photo)

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki (c) and Prime Minister Raila Odinga (r) greeting the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, ahead of their meeting in Nairobi (Nov 2009 file photo)

Raila Odinga calls on former UN chief Annan to help resolve deadlock over distribution of powers, corruption investigations

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has declared a crisis over the country's power-sharing deal and is calling for foreign mediation to help resolve the conflict. Kenya's coalition government lies in disarray after President Mwai Kibaki nullified the prime minister's suspension of two cabinet ministers linked to a pair of corruption scandals.

The two embarrassing corruption scandals have rocked Kenya's shaky governing arrangement. In both cases, government officials are accused of siphoning off millions of dollars aimed at helping the nation's needy.

In one, funds directed towards Kenya's free primary education program were allegedly stolen behind a trail of fraudulent bookkeeping. Both Britain and the United States have frozen financial support for the program due to the scandal.

The other concerns a subsidized maize scheme - ostensibly created to help feed starving Kenyans - which was used by well-connected individuals to enrich themselves on exorbitant profit margins.

Key political allies or aides of both President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga have been implicated in the corruption investigations, and the political fallout is only widening the divide between the two.

On Sunday, Mr. Odinga announced the immediate suspension of two top officials pending investigations into their respective roles in the missing funds. Education Minister Sam Ongeri is publicly allied to President Kibaki, and Agriculture Minister William Ruto is a fierce critic of the prime minister within his own party.

"I am taking this action because two recent investigations, the forensic audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers on the maize scandal and the report of the internal auditor general on free primary education, have laid credible foundations for the two ministers to be investigated," Mr. Odinga said.

But both ministers immediately rejected the PM's move, saying Mr. Odinga lacked the power to remove them from office. Speaking to reporters after news of his suspension, Minister Ongeri took a thinly veiled shot at the prime minister.

"I have not heard any message from the appointing authority, and I am quite clear in my mind who is the appointing authority. Thank you," Ongeri said.

Later, President Kibaki issued a statement saying that Mr. Odinga lacked the legal powers to remove the two ministers, saying that constitutionally they therefore remain in office.

The agreement signed between the two at the advent of the unity government stipulates that no minister can be sacked without the consent of the other governing party. Aides for the PM say that since the two ministers were only handed three-month suspensions, that rule does not apply.

Mr. Odinga called on Monday for former U.N. chief Kofi Annan to help resolve the row.

The prime minister position was created in 2008 to make room for Mr. Odinga, President Kibaki's electoral rival in the disputed December 2007 polls. The power-sharing deal between the two heads - mediated by Mr. Annan - halted a bloody wave of political violence sparked by a belief among Mr. Odinga's supporters that the election was "stolen."

The exact powers of the PM office has been a cause of constant tension within the deal. Technically, the two principals are to share powers equally, but Mr. Odinga and his allies have consistently complained that the loosely defined distribution of powers has in practice heavily favored Mr. Kibaki.

The government shake-up caused by the corruption scandals began Saturday when Mr. Odinga asked two of his aides named in an independent maize audit to step down and allow for investigations. Mr. Kibaki then announced the suspension of six additional senior officials.

Mr. Odinga came under fire last week from activists and political opponents after the audit from PricewaterhouseCooper allegedly implicated his office in the maize misappropriations. He had just days before called for top education officials to resign over the missing free schooling funds.

The PM chaired an inter-agency committee tasked with importing the relief maize.