By MOSES ODHIAMBO, MONDAY, JUNE 29, 2015, The Nation (Kenya)
President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga disagreed over claims of corruption in the National Youth Service when they came face to face at a church function in Kisumu on Monday. While they shared a podium, exchanged pleasantries and interacted cordially enough, they, however, expressed diametrically opposed views on corruption in the NYS.
They were attending the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Kisumu Catholic Archdiocese at the Uzima University College grounds. Despite their camaraderie, Mr Odinga still called for an audit of National Youth Service projects while the President told politicians to keep off, saying the project had transformed lives.
“Keep politics off the NYS project. We will expand it and bring more youths and extend its period. The project is changing the lives of once idle youths and transforming the face of the slum,” said Mr Kenyatta, who toured some of the projects in Kisumu’s Ubunga slum on his way to the church event.
However, Mr Odinga warned that corruption allegations around procurement at the NYS had stained the programme. He called for transparency in procurement.
The ODM leader also defended himself against allegations that he was fighting Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru and women in general. Mr Odinga has in recent days called for the suspension of Ms Waiguru and investigations over attempts to siphon Sh826 million from the NYS, which falls under her ministry.
Away from NYS issues, Mr Kenyatta struck a conciliatory tone, calling for unity and mutual respect. “Political competition is not enmity. We must respect and know the reason for coming together in as much as we come from different parties,” he said. “As politicians, we must know that despite our different parties, we are serving the same Kenyans, no section of Kenyans belongs to any individual.
“When we respect each other and work together, we will make it as a people.” There were few political statements at the event following a request by the church. The President and Mr Odinga spent a considerable time in conversation and laughter at the dais and the chatting appeared to be a positive sign. However, Nyakach MP Aduma Owuor used the occasion to ask President Kenyatta to change his mind on the issue of Mr Odinga’s retirement benefits.
President Kenyatta recently rejected a Bill that had proposed payment of the former PM’s pension as well as that of Wiper leader and former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka. He said the two must retire from elective politics to qualify for the pension. When it was his turn to address the gathering, Mr Odinga said: “I am not opposed to the NYS and the slum upgrading. I was the first to start slum upgrading. We are not fighting anybody. We are only asking for transparency in procurement.”
AVENUE FOR LOOTING
He said the Opposition was only concerned that the NYS had become an avenue for looting state resources. He added that his calls for the suspension of Ms Waiguru pending the resolution of the NYS saga did not mean he was fighting women. “We support women as well as calls for the observation of the two-thirds gender rule. We are not targeting anyone when we call for transparency,” he said.
He later invited the President to address the gathering. Mr Kenyatta called on politicians from both sides of the political divide to work together to deliver services to the people.
“We must remain united as leaders to ensure that we bring development. We need one another,” he said. Earlier, nominated TNA senator Joy Gwendo had raised the NYS matter, accusing the Opposition of undermining the project and fighting Ms Waiguru.
Ms Gwendo said the slum upgrading project had had a positive impact on many women’s lives positively.
“When you fight the NYS project, you are fighting women. This project will help us and we ask the President to continue the good work,” said Ms Gwendo. Kisumu Catholic Archbishop Zacchaeus Okoth told Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga to walk together in love.
“In a multiparty democracy, (the) Opposition is part of government since it provides necessary checks. We must, therefore, not change our political differences into enmity among our people,” the archbishop said. He asked the President to facilitate the award of a charter for the Uzima University College to allow for its expansion so that it can attract more medical students.
“The charter is due in the next one year,” he said. Governors Jack Ranguma (Kisumu), Cornel Rasanga (Siaya) and Cyprian Awiti (Homa Bay) supported the calls for the award of the charter.