A well-calculated “media leak” this week sent a strong message to Prime Minister Raila Odinga: If you live in a glass house, you are best advised not to throw stones at your neighbors. To the public eye, the media had done no more than unearth yet another report on corruption from confidential government shelves.
Yet its timing, its target and the number of media houses that had the privilege of laying their hands on it raised more eyebrows than dust and, eventually, it was clear to all that the move was a well-calculated spin meant to shut up the erstwhile Prime Minister.
And it caught him unawares when a number of media houses published details of the findings of the Independent Forensic Audit in the Implementation of the Subsidized Maize Meal Scheme at the National Cereals and Produce Board. The man had hardly pored over 20 pages of the 366-page document when the Press rolled out the verdict, according to his spokesman, Dennis Onyango.
Mr Odinga quickly issued a statement, in which he promised to answer the questions arising from the report on Thursday. “The final report of the Independent Forensic Audit in the Implementation of the Subsidized Maize Meal Scheme at the National Cereals and Produce Board was delivered to the Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Monday, February 8, 2010,” said his spokesman.
The audit was commissioned in May last year on the instructions of none other than the PM himself at the height of a public debate over the disappearance of thousands of bags of maize from the country’s Strategic Grain Reserves (SGR). Its findings could not have been leaked at a worse time for the PM, who only two days ago asked Education minister Sam Ongeri and his PS Karega Mutahi to quit over the misappropriation of millions of shillings meant for the Free Primary Education (FPE) programme.
The two, he argued, were supposed to take responsibility for the misdeeds of junior officers in their docket who are accused of plundering more than Sh103 million. But, in response to the quit calls, Prof Ongeri said: “It is wrong to turn out to be a heckler when you have a clear way of dealing with the matter in private.” Observers say Mr Odinga was responding to a statement by deputy PM Uhuru Kenyatta’s apparent defence of the Education minister when he said the “war against corruption could not be won through a war of words”.
Mr Odinga also talked tough last Friday during a workshop for PSs and heads of parastatals held at the Kenya Institute of Administration (KIA) in Kabete, and which was attended by President Kibaki. “Do not blame your subordinates,” he cautioned the Big Shots in government. “Do not blame the donors. Do not blame the Press. The buck stops with you.”
Sources said the Party of National Unity read a witch hunt move in the PM’s statements, and the party is understood to have interpreted the latter statement to mean President Kibaki was not hard enough on corrupt public servants. That is why, perhaps, Public Health minister Beth Mugo accused Mr Odinga of playing double standards by pushing for Prof Ongeri’s sacking, while ODM ministers who have faced similar accusations were enjoying their Cabinet positions.
At an Equity Bank function in Upper Hill, Prof Ongeri had said he would resign had the PM done the same after officers in his office were mentioned in the maize scandal. The more reason to believe that the maize report was used as a way of telling Mr Odinga to first remove the log in his eye before pointing a finger at others. It, in essence, means trust and confidence in the Grand Coalition Government remains at its lowest, even as it marks two years in office at the end of March.