Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi has called the government to order, cautioning public officers against statements that might be misconstrued to mean government policy, even as he defended his foreign trips following recent derision by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua that they were unnecessary.
In an exclusive interview with the ‘Nation’, Mr Mudavadi distanced the Kenya Kwanza administration from sentiments by Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria, who used derogatory words and threatened to block government advertising, noting that this was not the official government policy.
By virtue of his office, Mr Mudavadi, as the Prime Cabinet Secretary, has a duty to assist the President and the Deputy President in the co-ordination and supervision of government ministries and State departments.
Mr Kuria has faced a barrage of criticism over comments he made following an exposé implicating his ministry in a cooking oil import scandal and has continued to threaten and disparage the media, including at a meeting yesterday.
Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna has already planned a censure motion against Mr Kuria at the Senate and wants President William Ruto’s government to be compelled to state that the Trade minister’s utterances are personal views not representative of the official policy.
Mr Mudavadi, in the interview, underscores the need for a ‘vibrant and free media’.
“That is what the Constitution expects and demands and what Kenyans must get. As far as I’m concerned, the government is committed to a free, vibrant and objective media. We are not running away from that and it should be clear,” Mr Mudavadi said.
“But there is a very thin line between a public official and somebody in their private capacity. My advice to any of my colleagues in the public space is that be very careful in the statements that you make because they may be personal statements but because of your status in the society, they could give the impression that it is public policy when it is not,” the Prime CS said.
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He went on: “We need to be very clear that the government of Kenya stands for a free and robust media and in any case I would also say that if somebody feels aggrieved, you can criticise, raise your objection but vile language is not an option and we should desist from vile language at all times.”
On his foreign trips that have been criticised by DP Gachagua, Mr Mudavadi said that they have been sanctioned by President Ruto.
“The trips I have made have been on behalf of the President because we have to have our footprints in the diplomatic arena. My moves and trips have been to further the course and the peace processes that we are engaged in. We must invest in peace and diplomacy is the approach,” Mr Mudavadi said.
He warned against trivialising such an intervention.
“So we will make trips, Kenyans will make trips, and there are trips that have specific purposes. Sometimes there is misinterpretation of issues. When President Ruto was being inaugurated here, many presidents came. They come to show solidarity with a nation.
“It’s an honourable thing to do. A nation like Brazil which I have visited is a big powerhouse, perhaps the seventh largest economy globally. These are people we must engage with. In the global arena, countries must engage and diplomacy is the process. So let us not try and look at this thing in any other way,” said Mr Mudavadi.
The Prime Cs also delved on the state of the country 10 months since the Kenya Kwanza administration took over and explained the need to broaden the country’s tax base.
These are excerpts from the interview:
How can you rate the Kenya Kwanza administration nearly 10 months after it came to power?
I’ve always had issues with trying to make an arbitrary rating without properly anchoring it on facts. However, we have made some important strides. For instance, the Hustler Fund has been put in place and as we speak over Sh30 billion has been lent out.
The President has also appointed the six judges who had been frustrated and the government has made a commitment to employ 30,000 new teachers to improve on the teacher-pupil ratio. There has never been such a huge intake. This is a very significant step.
The government has also made commitments and the President immediately reduced the deficit in expenditure. There was a huge expenditure which we had to cut down by eliminating subsidies. We have also been able to provide support to farmers through provision of subsidised fertiliser during this period.
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An additional 200,000 acres have actually been added into food production. Our target is to make sure we bridge the deficit we inherited, from about 36 million bags of grain we hope this season we can come back to our normal production levels of 48 million bags.
These are very significant steps. In terms of governance, we have made our commitment of making sure the police service is given financial autonomy.
You promised to turn around the economy once in power yet the economy continues to be wanting, what’s your take on this?
We told Kenyans it would take time because of the depth of the crisis. Our debt is a big issue. We must offer austerity measures.
Economic recovery is not a one-off event; it’s going to be an accumulation of very specific measures. Let us be clear that we will have a fairly lean two years.
If we maintain the course of ensuring we are not living beyond our means, then we will start turning things around.
Is the government at war with its people as regards the proposals for various tax increases?
This is a government sharing reality with its people. There are no soft solutions to this. We have a huge debt and huge deficit.
We were living beyond our means and so what we are saying is that it’s now we stopped the haemorrhage, broadened the tax base and enhance revenue collection so that we can minimise the damage we have been causing by borrowing all the time.
How do you explain a situation where payment on interest of our public debt alone is higher than the development funds? What we are paying for interest alone for these loans is higher than the development resources we have put on the table.
We can’t continue this way. It’s not possible, not sustainable. So we are not at war with the citizens of this country.
As you enhance revenue collection, what are you doing to minimise theft?
We are sealing loopholes and in the process we are bringing in more people within the tax bracket. But any government, richest or poorest, can only fund its projects from two programmes, either through debts it’s borrowing and maybe generosity which comes in grants, and the other is taxation. Those are the only two known routes to fund a government.
That’s why a Finance Bill is tabled in Parliament. Broadening tax base means bringing in more people who were not paying taxes to come and pay tax. We have to do that to minimise the pressure on those who are already paying taxes.
When you spread that then the risk of the level of taxation will eventually come down because everybody is contributing appropriately.
Is the government walking the talk on austerity measures?
This is a new President. There are very critical global and regional issues that need to be handled. We have a crisis in DRC, South Sudan and then the bigger crisis has now emerged in Sudan.
We cannot have a situation where Kenya is going to lose its vantage point in initiating its peace programme.
If we don’t invest in stabilising the region, things can get worse. So we have to look at it in the context of what are the initiatives that the President is undertaking.
The bulk of what he has been doing in the last few travels he has made, there is a lot of intervention on matters peace. That is absolutely essential and the President is leading the way in doing that.
There are also aspects of climate change, and others where the President is keen on fund-raising for the development of this country.
What are your plans to address the issue of state capture that was a key plank in your campaigns?
This government has approved through Cabinet and the Conflict of Interest Bill is before the House. Let it be debated and once it’s done with, that will be a major step in dealing with this dinosaur. Let’s not speculate, let there be tangible evidence, that’s the rule of the law.
Let’s not live on rumours and innuendo and deny justice. Let the due process take its course on any issues arising.
Has Parliament been captured by the Executive?
No. Kenya Kwanza has majority in Parliament. Just do the numbers my friend. Let’s not make a mathematical thing debatable.
If some other MPs chose to vote with us, it is their right because even some of our MPs, like Gathoni Wa Muchomba, voted with the opposition and nobody has censured them for that.
Does Kenya Kwanza have a hand in the turmoil in former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party?
I will not sympathise with people who are finding that they are now wearing the shoe on the other side.
The masters of disrupting political parties and interfering in political parties reside in Azimio. So they’ve been caught flat-footed in their own games, let them reap what they sowed.
Are you at war with the Deputy President?
I even don’t know whether that warrants a response. My job is to assist the President and the DP, among other things. We are friends and get along very well.
What’s the status of the bi-partisan talks?
Right now Parliament is focused on the Finance Bill. Once that is done, the two teams can engage further as to whether they intend to proceed or not.
I cannot pre-empt anything but hopefully, after the Finance Bill, conversations can continue.
Kenya belongs to all of us and we have to move on.
Is Kenya a limited liability company with shareholders as put forth by DP Gachagua?
Kenya is a nation and it’s a country that belongs to 50 million plus Kenyans. What is important is that when a government is elected like we are, we will have to serve everybody, whether you voted for us or did not.
I can assure you that is the position of the President — that all Kenyans must be served.
As a State officer, you relinquished your party post when you were appointed Prime Cabinet Secretary, do you think National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula should also follow suit and stop clinging on to his Ford-Kenya party?
The law is on his side. The only public officers who are exempt are the elected officers and that’s why the President can still be party leader for his party, the DP can still be the deputy party leader of his party. But to be a Speaker you are elected by MPs and that’s where his advantage comes in.