03 May 2009

Kenya PM alleges "smears" in deepening political spat

Fri May 1, 2009 9:50am EDT – Reuters - By Andrew Cawthorne

NAIROBI, May 1 (Reuters) - Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga said on Friday that implications he was involved in corruption over maize imports and had stymied this week's cabinet meeting were unfounded smears by political foes.
Banner headlines on parliament's demand for a probe into Odinga's links to dodgy food networks -- and his angry response -- were further evidence of the squabbling and accusations paralysing the coalition running east Africa's largest economy.
Set up a year ago to end a post-election crisis in which at least 1,300 people were killed, the government of President Mwai Kibaki and former opposition leader Odinga returned peace to Kenya but has achieved little else since.
New corruption scandals have emerged, promised political reforms have not materialised, and divisions between the Kibaki and Odinga factions are dragging on all government affairs.
Public disillusionment with the government is high, polls show, with Kenyans saying the political elite are out-of-touch and exacerbating people's economic hardship due to corruption.
In a sign of the disgust and desperation being voiced by many around the country, some at a May Day rally in a Nairobi park pelted stones towards a minister during a speech announcing just a small increase in the minimum wage.
Labour Minister John Munyes had to cut short his speech.
Nairobi dailies gave prominence on Friday to a report by a parliamentary committee on agriculture recommending a probe into Odinga's family and associates' possible links to maize companies blamed for corrupt transactions and backhanders.
Odinga has also been in the news over this week's cancellation -- for the fourth time -- of a cabinet meeting. Kibaki supporters say Odinga snubbed the meeting, while the PM's men say he was informed too late via text of the time.
"These allegations are part of a smear campaign that has gone on for some time," Odinga spokesman Dennis Onyango said in a statement, referring to both the maize and cabinet issues.

The statement was scathing of the parliamentary report and denied Odinga had any links with maize importers.
"After spending months in luxurious hotels in the name of investigating food shortage in the country, the committee of Mr John Mututho has come up with conclusions that smack of vendetta, smear campaign and settling of scores," it said.
"These allegations around maize are being pushed by corruption cartels that see the prime minister as stopping them from dipping their way into the granary ... The PM is clearly a stumbling block to people who believe that public office must be held for private gain."
Odinga has sought to present himself as a reformer, but has seen corruption continue -- in the oil and tourism sectors, as well as food -- under the coalition government.
In another bone of contention, both camps of government are in deadlock over whom to name as the official leader of government business in parliament.
That has caused an impasse in legislative matters.
Business leaders say political instability is as big, if not worse, a threat than the global crisis to Kenya's prospects.
Growth in a previously booming economy slowed to around 2.0-2.5 percent last year, largely due to the post-election crisis, and is projected by the government to be between 2.0-3.0 percent in 2009. (Editing by Jack Kimball)