Minister’s return brings back Anglo Leasing ghost

Mr Mwiraria

It had been clear for quite a long time that it was just a matter of when, not if, Mr David Mwiraria would be recalled to President Kibaki’s Cabinet.

Mr Mwiraria

From the moment Mr Mwiraria resigned as Finance minister on February 1, last year,  it was clear that he was not being forced out in disgrace but voluntarily stepped aside to save his old friend, President Kibaki, further embarrassment over the Anglo Leasing scandal. 

His resignation was followed in quick order by that of Energy minister Kiraitu Murungi, also over the Anglo Leasing scandal, and Education minister George Saitoti over the Moi-era Goldenberg scandal. 

But unlike Mr Murungi and Prof Saitoti, who had to be prodded to move, with the President himself announcing that they had opted to step aside,  Mr Mwiraria took the initiative early.

The circumstances that led to the exit of Mr Mwiraria and Mr Murungi  were the damaging accusations by self-exiled former permanent secretary for Governance and Ethics John Githongo.

Another old Kibaki ally, Transport and Communications minister Chris Murungaru, had been dropped earlier over the same scandal. 

But while Dr Murungaru seemed to have been ejected from President Kibaki’s inner circle on being dropped from the Cabinet, Mr Mwiraria and Mr Murungi remained very much in his circle of political allies.

Mr Murungi initially went into a sulk and tried to flex a bit of muscle. He was seen in public grumbling with some local leaders in Meru about their key men in the Kibaki Government being sidelined.

Political loyalties

He even at times hinted that he was assessing his political loyalties.
In contrast, Mr Mwiraria remained the same quiet, loyal and self-effacing politician he had always been. It was clear that he remained personally loyal to the President and he did not go into sulks and tantrums to try and pressure his reappointment. 

From the beginning, it seemed that Mr Mwiraria would be the first of the two to be recalled. 

But there was the tricky bit in that unlike Mr Murungi whose link to the Anglo Leasing scandal was only indirect, the Githongo tapes showed Mr Mwiraria was directly linked as the minister for Finance under whose watch part of the scandal was executed. 

Once the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission headed by Mr Murungi’s former law partner, Mr Justice Aaron Ringera, cleared him (Murungi) of any wrongdoing, he was back in the Cabinet towards the end of last year. So was Prof Saitoti, who had gone to court and won a reprieve on his alleged involvement in the Goldenberg scandal. 

But Mr Mwiraria remained cooling his heels, until yesterday. Interestingly, the Anglo Leasing matter remains under investigation and there has been no finding absolving him of blame. 

So the inescapable conclusion is that with elections around the corner, President Kibaki would rather have a key ally by his side despite the cloud hanging over his head, than wait for a clean bill of health on the Anglo Leasing scandal. 

Chose to move

One question might be why the President chose to move now. 

Mr Mwiraria is a key and dependable ally but does not, at any time, seem to have made it a condition that he return to the Cabinet in exchange for political support.

Also with Mr Murungi back and other key officials from the Meru region such as Mr Justice Ringera and Public Service Head Francis Muthaura still in office, what at one time seemed like a mounting rebellion in an area that has been a bedrock of President Kibaki’s support has been stilled. 

In other words, Mr Mwiraria’s return is not key to the support President Kibaki enjoys in the Meru region. If anything, it might be a disadvantage because it serves to bring the Anglo Leasing back to the spotlight.