Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New power dispute in Kenya threatens shaky government

Word from Nairobi that Prime Minister Raila Odinga had called on former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan of Ghana to intervene in a disagreement that threatens to bring down Kenya's still-shaky coalition government. Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki are again caught up in a power struggle that demonstrates the fragility of the reluctant coalition Annan arranged in 2008 to settle weeks of ethnic violence following a disputed presidential election. The new crisis erupted after Kibaki overruled Odinga's decision to suspend two cabinet ministers -- one from each national party -- whose departments are caught up in a corruption scandal. Both Kibaki and Odinga claim they have the exclusive power to suspend ministers under Kenya's constitution. "The office of a minister can only become vacant if the president so directs," Kibaki said in a statement, according to Cable News Network (NCC). But Odinga said Monday that he had the power to oversee government officials. "The law is clear. On matters of discipline, suspension or interdiction of public officials including Cabinet ministers, the prime minister has exclusive authority," Odinga said in a statement. "Legally and constitutionally, neither the president nor the prime minister is superior to the other." Kibaki had already suspended several workers in the scandals, which involved billions of dollars in missing funds and supplies in the agriculture and education departments. But Odinga stepped in to suspend the ministers -- William Ruto and Samuel Ongari -- even though each has powerful tribal constituencies. That's when Kibaki stepped in to overrule his prime minister. The United States and Great Britain suspended education assistance to Kenya after auditors reported fraud in the government education program, CNN said.

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