Kenya's finance minister continues to resist calls by lawmakers to step
down over his role in the government's controversial sale of a Nairobi
luxury hotel. As Derek Kilner reports for VOA from the Kenyan capital,
the affair could represent the steepest challenge to date for the
country's new coalition government.
On Friday, a small group
marched through downtown Nairobi in support of Finance Minister Amos
Kimunya, who has come under fire in the past week for approving the
sale of a luxury hotel at a price that critics charge was far too low.
march was a rare show of support amidst a growing chorus of calls for
Mr. Kimunya to step down. On Thursday, a group of Kenyan lawmakers led
another protest march in Nairobi, calling on President Mwai Kibaki to
dismiss Kimunya by Tuesday, warning that they would introduce
legislation to censure the president if he took no action.
Ababu Namwamba is among the lawmakers calling for Mr. Kimunya's ouster.
has to leave office, either voluntarily or Kibaki has to tell him to
step aside because the accusations that have been leveled against him
are serious," he said. "And even if he is not guilty, those accusations
are worth investigating, and they cannot be investigated while he is
still in office."
Anti-corruption organizations and other
critics have raised an uproar over the deal, fearing it represents a
continuation of the widespread graft that has long plagued Kenya. Mr.
Kimunya approved the sale of the hotel for some $45 million, a price
that critics say is less than half the proper value. Mr. Kimunya
maintains that the price was fair, based on the current valuation of
the hotel, a view shared by some observers.
committee appointed by Prime Minister Raila Odinga and headed by
Attorney General Amos Wako produced a report this week calling on
Kimunya to step down, along with the central bank governor, the head of
the National Security Intelligence Service and the head of the Kenya
Anti-Corruption Commission. The committee called the deal "false,
fraudulent" and "designed to deceive."
Kenya's parliament has
also passed a vote of no-confidence in Mr. Kimunya. Parliament lacks
the power to remove a minister from office, but the body has stopped
hearing any business related to the Finance Ministry, a move that could
paralyze government operations if it continues.
Mr. Kimunya, a
close ally of President Mwai Kibaki continues to deny any wrongdoing,
saying his hands are "totally clean." He claims Mr. Odinga, Mr. Wako,
and Lands Minister James Orengo, among others, were aware of the deal
before it took place. And he says many lawmakers are simply acting out
of resentment over the finance minister's separate efforts to tax their
Mr. Kimunya had denied reports of the hotel's sale
until Mr. Orengo exposed the deal last week. Mr. Orengo is a key member
of Mr. Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement, the former opposition party
which is now sharing power with President Kibaki's supporters in a
coalition government, following December's disputed presidential
Mr. Kimunya has received little public backing from
his traditional allies in the president's party. Attorney General Wako,
Justice Minister Martha Karua, and other key politicians from Mr.
Kimunya's home region of Central Province have criticized the Finance
On Friday, however, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, another Kibaki ally, came to Mr. Kimunya's defense.
would like and I would have wanted to believe that acting in the best
interests of Kenyans we would have wanted to know what are all the
facts surrounding this particular saga and situation," he said. "If
Kimunya or anybody else is involved, where is the evidence that is
concrete so that we are providing and saying this man must not only be
dismissed but he must go to jail because we have evidence A, B, C, D."
Kibaki himself has been silent on the issue, in marked contrast to his
partner in the coalition government, Mr. Odinga. Mr. Namwamba, a member
of Mr. Odinga's party, says that if the president fails to take action
soon, and is seen as protecting Mr. Kimunya, then more of the
president's allies may be pressured fall into line, risking divisions
in the coalition government.
"If the president and Kimunya dig
in, then the differences will start to emerge," he said. "During debate
of the censure motion you saw a fairly united house and you saw leaders
across the political divide closing ranks on this issue. But if the
position of the president comes under threat, his people, as it were,
are most likely to close ranks and that will expose the cracks,
The public accusations within the Cabinet, particularly between Mr. Orengo and Mr. Kimunya as well as the fact
that the bulk of the country's key ministers, claim to have been kept in
the dark about the deal, have also raised questions about the coherence
of the new coalition.