Sunday, March 08, 2009


By Abdulahi Ahmednasir

The English idiom all hat, no cattle resonates well with the inhabitants of Texas. It was used with good effect against Barack Obama by Hillary Clinton during the primaries for the nomination of the Democratic Party’s presidential ticket. She dismissed her opponent as one who only talks the good talk. Our own Martha Karua, the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, is all hat, and no cattle.

The minister pontificates about everything ideal but has nothing to show. In the bigger scheme of good governance and reforms, Karua is the classical propagandist, just another irritant idle talker.
The minister has an exasperating habit of lecturing — from a self-erected pedestal — ordinary Kenyans and her colleagues in Cabinet on topics ranging from corruption and good governance to what she calls "taking political responsibility".

Whenever she has the opportunity to tell us what we already know about all things wrong in this country, she seizes it as though she will not have a second chance. At times she merely parrots the same issues on corruption, bad governance and accountability.

Occasionally, she drops names of individuals she has on her political sight. Recently, she zeroed in on her Cabinet colleagues William Ruto (Agriculture) and Kiraitu Murungi (Energy). On both occasions she ended up a loser. Both brought out an element of troubling political grumpiness in her. Three weeks ago she tore into the Judiciary without any provocation. When one juxtaposes her poor track record with her loud pronouncements on issues dear to Kenyans, one cannot help but notice the deficit in bona fide political practices on the part of the minister.

Karua is in charge of a vital ministry. With the Attorney-General Amos Wako from another political era, the Justice Ministry was created to provide a powerful engine for reform. This was on the presumption that the holder of the office has an idea how and what institutions to reform. Karua is thus in charge of all sphere of the reform portfolio in Government. She is the fulcrum around which all facets of the justice system should ideally rotate. For instance, the reform of the Judiciary, police, prisons, corruption, human rights, legal profession and all institutions that help in good governance fall under her mandate. In all these important sectors crying for reform, Karua has not taken a single step for reform during her years in the Justice Ministry.

Under the Justice Ministry

Let us see two of her pet subjects to underline her dismal failure. The Judiciary is headed by the Chief Justice. In terms of the political organisation in Government, the Judiciary administratively falls under the Justice Ministry. Whereas to his credit Kiraitu as Justice Minister implemented the successful radical surgery of the Judiciary, which brought sanity and gave a new lease of life to an institution that was on its deathbed, Karua has nothing to show for the post-surgery phase of judicial reform.

The only time she strongly engages the Judiciary is when the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) is about to appoint judges to the High Court and the Court of Appeal. When the Chief Justice authored a Bill on JSC that would have given the Judiciary financial autonomy, Karua shelved it. Yet the Bill would have made the Judiciary more responsive to the needs of Kenyans.
Karua oversees two departments with contrasting resources and mandate. The Judiciary, with presence in every corner of the country has an annual budget of about Sh800 million. The Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (Kacc) with 330 employees, all housed in a single building, has an annual budget of about Sh1.2 billion. The top five employees of Kacc earn more salary than all the judges of the Court of Appeal. This mismatch of resources and priority occurs in her docket. If she can’t appreciate the dire need of an important institution like the Judiciary or see the wasteful excesses of Kacc, what can she know about the rest of the country? What positive agenda can she have when her docket is in dire need of outside assistance?

In the fight against corruption, Karua no longer pretends her ministry is doing anything meaningful. Apart from a propagandist organisation called the National Anti-Corruption Campaign Steering Committee, Karua has not initiated any consequential effort in the anti-graft war. This committee is unaccountable money guzzler that specialises in cheap and at times shadowy publicity stings for her ministry.

Kenyans admire Karua when she talks compellingly on corruption and bad governance. But they are also tired of her inertia. She has had many opportunities to take the war to the next meaningful phase but has persistently refused to take up the challenge. As a politician with presidential ambition Karua should know what matters is not how many speeches she gave prior to 2012. Her scorecard as minister will pose her greatest nightmare.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court.