Yesterday’s Presidential Debate at the Catholic University of East Africa marked the climax of a series of debates organized by the media fraternity as a responsibility to educate and inform Kenyan citizens on issues of consideration in the upcoming election.
The first tier witnessed Rev. David Mwaure of the Agano Party present his manifesto in the absence of his opponent, Roots Party leader Prof. George Wajackoyah. The second one saw DP William Ruto speak to the nation about his agenda in the absence of his closest rival, Azimio la Umoja Presidential Candidate Raila Odinga.
Ruto had all 90 minutes to himself, moderated by media personalities Yvonne Okwara of Citizen TV and Eric Latiff of Spice.
These are some of the key issues that arose in the hot debate.
The Galana Kulalu Water Project
The debate session kicked off with the moderators putting DP Ruto on the spot over the collapse of the Galana Kulalu project in the first term of the Jubilee government, meant to guarantee Kenyan food security.
The DP admitted the collapse but claimed that the project failed due to the government’s failure to build dams in the areas.
“The Galana Kulalu was conceived and the pilot on the first 10,000 tonnes programme took place. The first harvest came into being. The recommendation from the trial was that we needed to build a dam because research showed that the soil could support the production of maize and other cereals. Unfortunately, it did not move forward because we did not get the dam sorted,” he said.
The UDA presidential candidate blamed the high cost of living on the Handshake between Raila and President Uhuru Kenyatta, which he said hijacked the Big4 agenda.
“I tried to push the Big Four Agenda to a point where my boss told me he wanted to do things differently. He requested that he wanted to assemble a different group of what he wanted to be his legacy. Unfortunately, the Big Four suffered a big blow because the whole of the programme did not take place,” he said.
On the debt crisis and what he has done and is planning to do about it, the DP promised to expand the tax base to tackle the problem.
He pointed fingers at the government for reckless spending on projects such as the Uhuru Gardens Museum, which he said Sh15 billion was not budgeted for as being part of Sh100 billion spent on unbudgeted projects.
“I still believe that it is reckless for anybody to say that we cannot pay our debts. I believe we have what it takes to pay our debts. What we cannot entertain as a country is that we are in a position where we can’t service our debt and we need to renegotiate.
“What I would do is first slow down on borrowing, unbudgeted projects which is the biggest source of our problems, we need to raise our revenues, and we have areas we can raise our revenue. We collect 52 per cent of all collectable VAT, we can raise 95% which will give us an extra Ksh450 billion. There is room to raise additional revenue. Our debt today is a challenge and we need to deal with it. We are living beyond our means,” he explained.
The Secret SGR Contract
Ruto also had a tough time explaining why contract details of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) were not made public as required by law nearly eight years after they were signed.
The DP responded by saying that he had advised the President on the requirement by law to make the contracts public.
“Those contracts and agreements, in accordance with the Constitution, are public documents which Kenyans have a right to access. As Deputy President, there is so much that you can do. My oath of office has four functions. I swear allegiance to the people, to discharge responsibility, to advise the President and to serve the people equally and fairly.
“I have made my position in regard to the contracts very well known to the right offices. It is not a matter I would have wanted to take public for the purposes of making the government functional,” he said.
The Arror and Kimwarer dams scandal
DP Ruto shocked the interviewers by claiming that the Arror and Kimwarer dam scandals were created to harm him politically.
The claims came up while he was responding to the question of insecurity in the Kerio Valley, in which he said that the government had withdrawn police reservists, fearing that the locals would be used as militia to further his political cause.
He rubbished his earlier claim that only Sh7 billion was lost and said that he said Sh7 billion was insured and that there was a risk of taxpayers losing Sh19 billion if the project was not implemented.
“Withdrawal of police reservists in the Kerio Valley was to punish me as so many lives have been lost. It wasn’t about me. I only mobilised resources while in government. Not only that, but Arrow and Kimwarer dams were cancelled to punish my supporters.
“For your information, Arror and Kimwarer were signed at the same time as other government projects. signed by the same companies and funded by the same financiers. How come the only project that did not go through?
“The contractors are in court in London, and the Government of Kenya is already replying to the case in court. They cannot afford to make it public because it is embarrassing. I do not believe any money was lost, and if it was lost, people should be taken to court,” he said.
Accusations of land grabbing
The question of the DP’s land grabbing saga formed the climax of the debate. The moderators wanted to know his view of the perception of the public that he had a huge appetite for public land—citing the Taita Taveta ranch, Murumbi Hacienda in Narok, and the Muteshi matter, where he was ordered to surrender 100 acres of land belonging to an Internally Displaced Person (IDP).
“I am proposing to deal firmly with the fight against corruption. Any piece of land that I have is legally acquired. I was a victim of fraudulent sellers of the land (Muteshi land). What the court ordered me to do is pay for the three years I stayed on the land. The people who sold the land to me were taken to court.
“Acquisition of property is a legitimate endeavour. I have paid value for any property I have… For your information, I am probably the only politician in Kenya that has been audited left, right, upside down, and inside out on any matter. If I was a quiet business person, I would not attract the same kind of labelling that I have been subjected to,” the DP said.
Sam Oduor is the editor-in-chief at the Western Kenya Times who leverages the power of the Internet in telling stories that shape opinions.