BY ERIC NGENO
Until UhuRuto nominated Charity Ngilu and Najib Balala as cabinet secretaries, the honeymoon vibrations which enveloped the country in a rich rainbow of optimism and goodwill radiated untramelled. Apparently, the two nominations proved the fly in the national feel-good ointment. Why so? First, the Dynamic Duo had assured Kenyans that there would be no politicians in the Cabinet except the two of them. Secondly, the other nominees boasted sterling academic and professional credentials in contrast to the ‘politicians’. They were also relatively new to the public domain, or at least at the level that the nominations thrust them. As a result, they have fewer known enemies, and no scandal attaches to their names in the first instance.
Not so for Ngilu and Balala. CORD has intimated through its legislators that they feel that their nominations are a slap in the face, and suggested that there are grave integrity issues that render them ineligible for appointment. No less than Jakoyo Midiwo, a key leader of the Official Opposition, has given notice that these two will be torn to shreds when they turn up for their date at the parliamentary colliseum.
I am glad that the Opposition is keen and vigilant about the integrity of nominees for State appointments and the vexed matter of corruption in general. Without this engagement, government is bound to be entitled and overreaching, which in turn leads to impunity. On that score, they are quite welcome to Madam Ngilu, Balala and any number of nominees they desire to give a seeing-to.
However, there is a context for Ngilu’s case in particular, that bespeaks critical examination. Somewhere along the fraught term of the Grand Coalition Government, her assistant minister in the Ministry of Water, Mwangi Kiunjuri fashioned himself into a formidable whistle-blower and promptly fingered his boss, Charity Ngilu. His allegations traversed corrupt procurement, nepotism, skewed allocation of water projects (mainly dams and boreholes, mind) in favour of the minister’s regional constituency and other improprieties besides. The ensuing scandal set the media afire, got the President’s attention, and caused the Prime Minister, and Ngilu’s political principal to give assurances to the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission – the precursor of the Ethic and Anti-Corruption Commission – on the Coalition’s and ODM’s commitment to the war on corruption. Relations, associates and aides of the minister had tea at Integrity Centre and a few arraignments were lined up. There was a shake-up of the water sector, and Charity Ngilu’s political career looked destined for the dumps.
Around the same time, Henry Kosgey faced criminal charges connected with the importation, or the authorisation of importation of over-aged used cars. The charges were preferred at the instance of the Permanent Secretary serving under him. Now Henry Kosgey was, and probably still is, the ODM national chairman and the Prime Minister’s stalwart ally.
Moreover, Najib Balala had a handful of his own, which culminated in a Permanent Secretary and CEO of the Kenya Tourism Board being successfully prosecuted for corruption. The CEO in question is a scion of the legendary freedom fighter and ally of the Prime Minister’s father, Achieng Oneko.
It did not take long for ODM to connect dots and see a very, very frightening pattern. The instigators of its ministers’ woes were, without exception, either politically or ethnically connected with the PNU, ODM’s unloved coalition partner. Obviously, something had to be done.
Concerted and energetic intervention of Ngilu’s party, ODM, was clearly required to scatter the hounds snapping at the feisty lady’s heels.That is why a day after giving his assurance of unstinting support for the war on corruption, on 29th October, 2010, the Prime Minister went on a tour of Ukambani to inspect water projects.While there, he publicly defended Ngilu against corruption allegations at her ministry and dismissed allegations that she had favoured Ukambani in water project allegations. The Prime Minister was not equivocal.
“Mrs Ngilu has done a great job in her docket. I want to assure her that I will fully defend her against the with-hunt by her political detractors.” he declared. ” Don’t be cowed by anyone; you have done nothing wrong. I know your good record and will stand by you in the event you are called to account.”
The Prime Minister went further and declared the allocation of more projects in Ukambani to be a form of affirmative action, asserting that it was perfectly in order to allocate more resources in regions where water scarcity is more severe.
With the Prime Minister so firmly behind her, Charity Ngilu’s problems soon evaporated, save for a pending case involving persons alleged to be related to her. But that is not the point. The point is that having full cognisance of the facts of the matter, ODM -who would have us take it as the bastion of progressive reformist component of our body politic-rubbished the corruption allegations against Ngilu, endorsed her in resounding encomiums, and termed her actions heroic affirmative action, and the allegations against her a witchunt by her political detractors.
In fact the only person who paid the price for the entire muddle is Prof PLO Lumumba, Director of the KACC. And now, the Official Opposition, CORD, which comprises ODM, are making noises that threaten to torpedo Mrs Ngilu’s nomination on ‘integrity’ grounds. This is rich beyond telling.
Mrs Ngilu served a full Parliamentary term as an ODM minister. ODM found her an exemplary minister worthy of exuberant commendation and unreserved political protection. What has changed? The only worthwhile change is that Ngilu is a Jubilee nominee, whereas CORD is the Official Opposition. Even under those circumstrances, the nature of truth has not changed a whit. A thief remains a thief, and a good person, good. ODM cannot accuse Charity Ngilu of integrity deficits without inviting demands for political and ideological accountability.
In fact, the citation that the President gave in support of her nomination is identical with the position ODM took when the same integrity issues it proposes to canvas first broke into the public domain. In a manner of speaking, Charity Ngilu is the unanimous nominee of the Government and Official Opposition. Therefore, she ought to be a shoo-in for appointment to the Cabinet as she enjoys the confidence of the entire Parliament. That is how proper logic works. ODM, therefore CORD, cannot approbate and reprobate.Ironically, then, Charity Ngilu’s name should be the first to be cleared as the position of both sides of Parliament is already known.