/ 4 April 2008

Kenyans say jumbo Cabinet a colossal waste

Kenyan papers and political watchdogs on Friday criticised the size of a coalition Cabinet announced a day earlier, saying 40 ministers were a colossal waste of money in a country with widespread misery.

They also slammed President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, head of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), for creating the country’s largest-ever Cabinet with five new portfolios when hundreds of thousands displaced by post-election strife remain in camps.

”What Kibaki and Raila did was to show that their clients are not the people of Kenya, but themselves and their political expedients,” said Gladwell Otieno, the head of the Africa Centre for Open Governance.

”The two agreed to set up a totally wasteful government, rewarding each other with ministries that we do not need and yet they are the ones who set off the crisis that has left Kenyans suffering,” she added.

Kibaki and Odinga announced on Thursday that an agreement had been reached on a coalition government after weeks of bitter wrangling over its size and the attribution of key portfolios.

The announcement was seen as a key step in the implementation of a deal reached on February 28 to end the violence that erupted following disputed December polls, which Odinga accused Kibaki of rigging.

Newspapers said the cost was unreasonable for Kenya, a nation where about 60% of the population lives on less than $1 a day.

”This will be the largest Cabinet Kenya has ever had since independence. Questions will continue being raised about the need and cost of such a large grouping,” the top-selling Nation newspaper said in an editorial.

The Nation suggested that there should be a cap on the size of the Cabinet to control public expenditure.

”But we must also recognise that such an arrangement must be a product of compromise. The need to set the country back on the road to normalcy superseded the need for a lean Cabinet.

”In that event then, it must be made abundantly clear this is essentially a one-off arrangement. It will become necessary to have legislation that places a cap on the number of Cabinet ministers and sets guidelines on the establishment of ministries,” the Nation added.

According to independent watchdogs, the average cost of running a ministry in Kenya is about eight billion shillings ($130-million) per annum.

The Standard newspaper also took umbrage at the size of the Cabinet.

”The issue is the implicit disregard of strong public sentiment on what appears to be wasteful spending on unnecessary bureaucracy. Taxpayers want better services for less,” the Standard said in the editorial.

Media Analysis and Research chief Mwalimu Mwalimu Mati said the crucial power-sharing deal should not be a licence to waste state resources.

”The accord was meant to unite the nation, but not to translate into a windfall for politicians,” said Mati, a former head of the Kenyan chapter of Transparency International.

”This is a very bad start for a grand coalition that has yet to be accepted by a majority of Kenyans,” he said. — Sapa-AFP