Shuffle, dismiss or suspend: Ruto’s cabinet conundrum

President William Ruto faces a dilemma over the performance of his cabinet secretaries: should he shake up the team, force their resignations, suspend them, fire them or simply ignore the noise? Or should impeachment by Parliament serve as a pressure valve?

At least six cabinet secretaries are facing challenges in their ministries that directly impact the lives of ordinary Kenyans, particularly “students”.

With less than two years in power, President Ruto must manage a difficult balancing act when it comes to CSs that are either underperforming or facing corruption allegations.

MPs’ attempt on Thursday to remove agriculture minister Mithika Linturi from office, and a poll that suggested most of his agriculture ministers were performing poorly, presented President Ruto with a double dilemma as he deals with the bad apples in his cabinet should handle.

Data released by Tifa last week ranked Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki as the best performing minister with an overall score of 68 percent, an average grade of B. The second highest rank was shared by Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi and Cabinet Secretary for Youth and Sports Ababu Namwamba, who both scored 59 percent, which corresponds to an average grade of C+.

ICT CS Eliud Owalo scored a C of 51 percent while Defense CS Aden Duale had a C of 50 percent. Education CS Ezekiel Machogu and his civil service counterpart Moses Kuria achieved an average grade of C-. Mr. Machogu received 48 percent of the points, while Kuria scored 45 percent. Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen had 41 percent (D+) while his compatriot Alice Wahome received 40 percent (D+).

President William Ruto, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Cabinet Secretaries after a Cabinet meeting at State House in Nairobi.

Photo credit: pcs

It was a bad week for Linturi, which was also ranked as the worst performing CS with an overall rating of 25 percent.

“I call a lot of PSs and ask them what’s going on here, but they have no idea, and that’s your department, that’s the job you have; You are not a messenger, you are not a security guard, you are not a photographer, you are not a guard,” he said.

Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo says this is a good reason for the president to make changes and hire new people.

“The President himself had told us that some of his CSs and PSs do not know what is going on in their ministries. “So why does he still keep it?” said Dr. Amollo. Analysts say this is the best time to sack some of the underperforming CSs and also those who are implicated in corruption allegations.

They point out that President Ruto should sack Linturi – even if he is exonerated by MPs – to send a strong message. “If the president loves Mr. Linturi, this is the best time to fire him.

Because if the select committee finds him guilty, he will not be eligible for any other job, such as an ambassadorial role, since he will have to be vetted by the same House of Representatives that impeached him,” said Javas Bigambo, a political analyst.

Mr Bigambo says President Ruto’s dilemma is compounded by the fact that some of the affected CSs stood by him during his turbulent time as Vice President.

“Some of these CSs have been a major factor in his success, but the problem is if he continues with the allegations of corruption and incompetence that are circulating around them, it will lead to impunity as some of them will feel untouchable,” says Mr. Bigambo.

He notes that the continued stay of some CSs hinders the implementation of the government agenda and unduly embarrasses the President and the government as a whole.

Nominated MP John Mbadi says it is now clear that many CSs are weak. “Only two percent of the cabinet is responsible. CSs in some sensitive ministries are simply incompetent and should not have even made it into Cabinet,” says Mr Mbadi.

John Mbadi

John Mbadi, Chairman of the National Assembly on Public Accounts, during the session at Parliament House on August 24, 2023.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

He says the president should take advantage of public discontent and fire incompetent CSs. “He shouldn’t worry about politics, he owes it to Kenyans to provide his services,” he offers.

Marakwet West MP Timothy Toroitich says there is an overall feeling that the cabinet is weak and that the president is actually working alone.

“The impeachment vote against Linturi was a vote by the president to tell him that even though he was working hard, someone was actually sabotaging him,” he explains.

However, the dilemma facing President Ruto is not an isolated case as previous incumbents also faced cases of corruption and embezzlement of billions from taxpayers in their ministries, but had their own way of easing public pressure.

The ax fell on Charity Ngilu (Lands and Settlement), Michael Kamau (Transport), Felix Koskei (Agriculture), Kazungu Kambi (Labour) and Davis Chirchir of Energy.

President Uhuru Kenyatta

Retired President Uhuru Kenyatta during an interview with The Nation on May 26, 2020.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The list also included principal secretaries and other senior government officials, according to an announcement made during the State of the Nation Address to both Houses of Parliament. At the beginning of his second term there was an opportunity to fire some cabinet secretaries.

Kibaki’s stand

Although President Kibaki was slow to denounce his renegade ministers, he did not spare political allies such as Kiraitu Murungi and David Mwiraria, whom he forced to “resign” due to controversies surrounding their ministries.

One of his boldest moves came in 2005, when he fired his entire cabinet after suffering defeat in a referendum on a new constitution. President Kibaki could not withstand the campaign against the constitution by his own cabinet ministers.

Among those sacked was Raila Odinga, who served as Roads Minister but successfully led the campaigns against the Bomas Constitution.

“I have dismissed all ministers and deputy ministers with immediate effect. I will announce a new government before the end of two weeks,” President Kibaki said, adding that the move would help him have a cohesive cabinet.

In 2009, when there were heated disputes in the grand coalition government, President Kibaki warned during a tour in Kisii that disgruntled ministers would be sacked.

“Kama hajui njia ya kutoka tuta watoa. (If they don’t know the way out, we will get them out),” President Kibaki warned.

President Mwai Kibaki

Former President Mwai Kibaki and Chief of Army Staff Jeremiah Kianga during the 48th Madaraka Day.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

During the Grand Coalition government, President Kibaki faced the dilemma of disciplining errant CS as the agreement called for consultation between the President and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

A memorable power struggle occurred when Mr Odinga “suspended” then Education Minister Sam Ongeri and Agriculture Minister William Ruto, a move that was reversed by President Kibaki.

Former Roads Minister Franklin Bett, who was State House Comptroller during President Daniel Arap Moi’s administration, told The Weekly Review that when there are complaints about a minister, the President will make an assessment of the problem.

“President Moi would assess whether the problem was with the file presented or with the person. If the problem was the file, the person was transferred to another ministry, but if the problem was with the person, he was fired. He had no concerns about that,” Mr Bett said.

Mr Bett, an old hand in the corridors of power, joked that President Moi’s philosophy was to “shoot Baadaye (later) and investigate” when public pressure was overwhelming.

“He would throw a guy out and investigate later. This should reduce political pressure,” Bett noted, adding that President Moi remained a good listener and weighed the pros and cons before taking action.

Mr Bett says the usual practice was to replace the expelled person with someone from the same region.

“The dilemma the president faces is that this generation wants quick results. Back then, ministers were older and had patience on an issue,” he says.

During his 24 years in office, President Moi preferred to make changes through the 1pm bulletins on national radio. According to the book “24 years of the Nyayo Era: Moi Cabinets”, the ministers were always ready for anything as they did not know what might happen to them.

“I was not surprised because I was appointed through an announcement on the radio and thereby relieved of my duties,” Mr Darius Mbela said upon his dismissal.

President Moi, who had the best intelligence, knew everything his ministers were doing and gathered facts before striking without notice against any of his ministers who went against the government’s positions or plans.