President William Ruto’s nascent administration is facing a litmus test as calls for a Cabinet reshuffle grow louder amid infighting.
The soaring cost of living, rising fuel prices,increased taxation, squabbling within the government and a restive support base present the President with a tough balancing act. Further compounding the challenges is a seemingly re-energised opposition.
A survey by InfoTrak last week revealed that more than half of Kenyans (53 per cent) believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.
The survey indicated that a trend is forming where a number of Kenyans who believed in President Ruto’s bottom-up ideology feel let down by the government as they cannot afford basic needs and that public education is becoming unaffordable for them.
Further ruffling feathers are reckless remarks by high-ranking government officials. Economic advisor to the President Dr David Ndii, for example, told Kenyans it is time to pay for the “sins” of the previous regime, saying that “financial delinquency has no solutions, only consequences”.
Remaining unapologetic in his language, Dr Ndii said: “I’ve been advised that I owe the public empathy. I don’t agree. I do not subscribe to sentimentality in the conduct of public affairs. I owe my position in this society to speaking truth to power, brutally. I ruffle feathers.”
Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria told Kenyans to brace for even more pain, predicting fuel prices could rise by about Sh10 every month for the next four months.
“I repeat. Petrol will be Sh260 by February. And El Nino is coming in three weeks that will last till March. These are global and climate change driven. Responsible leaders ought to tell the truth to prepare the people. You can throw stones at me all you want,” CS Kuria tweeted on Saturday.
His Energy counterpart Davis Chirchir told MPs last week that “there is nothing much we can do” about the rising fuel prices.
The reckless remarks have drawn the ire of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua who has warned government officials against “insensitive, arrogant and irresponsible” remarks.
“I want to call upon fellow leaders, particularly those that our President, Dr Ruto, has given the privilege to serve Kenyans, to exercise caution in addressing their employer, the people of Kenya. It is insensitive to talk down on the people,” said the DP.
He said talking down on the people and demoralising those who look up to them for solutions is not good leadership.
“The arrogant statements by a few leaders do not, in any way, reflect the official government position or that of President William Ruto,” said Mr Gachagua.
However, Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna laughed off the DP’s sentiments, reminding him that he is the “king of contempt for the people”.
“There is literally no one in the regime that comes close to you in terms of contempt for the people. You of the ‘shareholders’ fame? No Sir. Sit down. You make Moses Kuria and Ndii sound like page boys in comparison,” he said.
Senate Majority Whip Boni Khalwale asked President Ruto to sack the two CSs and Dr Ndii.He said the trio had put the President in a dangerous spot as he accused them of messing up the President on fuel crisis.
“I want to tell you from Kakamega Mr President, that the people you have given State appointments are failing you and you should sack them immediately for the smooth running of the government,” he said. “Sack the Cabinet Secretary for Investments, Trade and Industry, the CS for Energy and your Economic Advisors because they have messed you up on fuel.”
Mr Khalwale went ahead to say that the ground is starting to get hostile due to missteps by the Kenya Kwanza regime, citing a case where senators allied to the government voted to deny counties at least Sh22 billion in equitable revenue share.
The InfoTrak poll handed half of President Ruto’s Cabinet a performance rating of D, averaging between 45 and 49 per cent. Mr Kuria led the lot which also had Rebecca Miano (East African Community), Simon Chelugui (Cooperatives), Njuguna Ndung’u (Treasury), Florence Bore (Labour), Soipan Tuya (Environment), Aisha Jumwa (Public Service), Mr Chirchir and Zachary Njeru (Lands). Others were Prime CS Musalia Mudavadi and Attorney-General Justin Muturi.
InfoTrak Chief Executive Officer Angela Ambitho explained that the poor rating was also due to Kenyans not being aware of what some of the CS have achieved.
To add to the challenges facing the President, the Federation of Kenya Employers is threatening to sack employees due to expected rise in production costs and matatu fare hikes, which will hit his core support base.
Medics are also threatening to down their tools over unemployment and poor working conditions.
Presenting more headaches to President Ruto is cracks in his administration, with Water CS Alice Wahome involved in a fight battle with her principal secretary Dr Kipronoh Ronoh over the Athi Water Works Development Agency leadership.
This as the fate of the bipartisan talk hangs in the balance with the ongoing dialogue receiving lukewarm treatment by Kenya Kwanza luminaries led by Mr Gachagua and Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro.
Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leader Raila Odinga last week described President Ruto’s first year in office as “extremely disastrous”, saying the economy is in a “reckless race to the bottom” .
While ruling out resumption of anti-government protests, Mr Odinga threatened unspecified action based on the signaturs the coalition has been collecting.
Additional reporting by Peter Mburu