In Conversation With Opiyo Wandayi: We Will Keep Ruto in Check

October 31, 2022

National Assembly Minority Leader, Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, spoke to the Nation on the controversy surrounding his appointment, the ruling by the speaker on the majority/minority tussle and Azimio’s plans in the National Assembly to keep President William Ruto’s government in check.

What is your immediate plan for the Azimio coalition troops in Parliament?

We have a grand strategy to deal with the situation as Kenyans did not expect Kenya Kwanza to take over power. It is a situation that came as a surprise, and, therefore, as a coalition, we have a strategy broken down into short, medium and long terms. These strategies are not supposed to be shared with third parties but executed for the benefit of Kenyans.

Your appointment as the Minority Leader caused some disquiet within ODM … was it a unanimous decision by the members or how was it arrived at?

There were no murmurs from the Azimio coalition, those were just stories instigated by our opponents. Kenya Kwanza would not have wanted me to lead the minority side going by my record as a principled person. I can’t rule out the fact that they sponsored the disquiet, which did not last long.

In any contest, there is always a winner and loser and it doesn’t mean that those who didn’t win are less qualified. I’m just one among the equals and together we shall deliver.

There is talk that the Orange MPs settled on a different candidate but were overruled by other powerful people in the party?

Not true. We had a joint parliamentary group meeting in Stoni Athi, which was well-attended and we went through the process of identifying leaders of both Houses and we gave the Azimio leadership the mandate to make the announcement in public, so there was nothing opaque. The process was transparent.

Your critics say you rarely interact with MPs. How will you navigate this, considering that you need all members behind you to put the government on its toes?

I’m one of the most easygoing MPs, I interact freely with members and I’m readily available. I led PAC in the 12th Parliament and you cannot chair a committee if you don’t interact with members, staff and even stakeholders, so I’m a people person.

What is the plan of the coalition to keep President William Ruto’s administration in check?

The work of oversight is vested in all MPs, but lawmakers belonging to parties that have formed the Executive usually consider themselves part of it, a move that undermines the oversight role of Parliament. So, it is our duty as Azimio to take up the role to ensure that no vacuum exists and do the work as if it is ours alone.

Placing members in committees is a headache to party leadership. Why do MPs prefer some committees?

The idea that some committees are more lucrative than others is a perception. I have served in the committees of agriculture, environment, national security and administration and finally, PAC.

All those committees are comparable and MPs can play their oversight role in any, but because of perceptions, we have members scrambling for certain committees

During the handshake period, PIC and PAC appeared to have mellowed and never produced a hard-hitting report despite runaway corruption in the government. Will they be vibrant in this Parliament?

People want to forget easily, PAC which I chaired, was the first committee to call out IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati, Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu when we did a review of IEBC performance in the 2017 elections. We presented an official report to the House recommending the removal of Mr Chebukati and the two commissioners and a number of staff, but the report was mutilated, first by the Speaker, a move that saved the chairman and his team, but the bulk of the report remained intact.

If the recommendations of our report would have been implemented, perhaps we wouldn’t be where we are now with the IEBC. We wouldn’t have gone to the August election with the IEBC as currently constituted, so I don’t know what boldness means if it’s not what we did.

It is clear that Kenya Kwanza has the numbers in both Houses. Does this worry Azimio, that some unpopular laws will be passed considering that it is about the numbers?

This is a hung parliament because nobody has the absolute majority; numbers can flip either way and even with the Speaker forcibly migrating some members to Kenya Kwanza, the numbers are still comparable.

Kenya Kwanza has no numbers to make any constitutional changes, even on matters decided by a simple majority. The numbers can flip either way so they can’t sit pretty. It’s a matter of who is physically present in the House when a decision is made. They have no numbers to worry anybody.

Do you think the Speakers’ ruling on the majority/minority stalemate was political … was there coercion from the Executive? 

On the face of it, the ruling had no legal or constitutional basis. It was a ruling that was bereft of any jurisprudential value, but I leave the rest to the court to decide since we have taken the matter there.

Despite contesting the matter in court, Azimio still nominated members to the House Business Committee and even the Committee on Appointment that vetted cabinet secretaries … is this an admission that you’ve agreed to settle as the minority?

Our nomination of members to those committees was strategic. Failure to nominate our members to HBC and appointments committee means you give Kenya Kwanza a free hand to set the agenda of the House and rubber-stamp those CS nominees.

Having undertaken a deep evaluation of the whole matter and following wide consultation within the Azimio family, we made a strategic decision to take up our roles in the National Assembly and play the oversight function.

We came to the realisation that any delay in taking up our roles would give Kenya Kwanza an undue advantage and create a big loophole which they would capitalise on to ride roughshod on everything, to the detriment of the whole country.

Azimio lost in the speakers’ and deputy speakers’ race, it also lost on the majority/minority in the House…is this a sign of worse things to come for you in Parliament?

Not true at all. We all know that immediately one is declared President, whether legitimately or otherwise, the power balance shifts to his side because of our culture of patronage politics. Had Raila Odinga been declared the President, all those numbers you see would have been in the favour of the Azimio candidate , so it’s not something to worry about, we just have to deal with it.

We knew that immediately Ruto was declared the President, it was going to be an uphill task to keep a significant number of members in Azimio because many times MPs pursue selfish interests and there is this fallacy that if you identify with the Executive, then you stand to gain as an individual and your constituency.

President William Ruto has said he intends to cut the current budget by over Sh300 billion … will you support such budget cuts when it come to the floor of the House

Until I see proposals contained in the supplementary budget, I can’t comment on it. The President, when he made the announcement on the floor of the House, failed to talk about corruption. If we only reduce by a fraction of the amount of wastage and pilferage that happens every year, you wouldn’t need to make any cuts on the current budget, it would be a saving of more than Sh300 billion. He should just muster the courage and draw the line on matters of corruption.

As the political secretary of ODM, critics in Nyanza blamed the party’s six piece call for low voter turnout, which by extension cost Azimio the presidency. What is your comment on this?

The world over, every political party fights to expand its territory and as it does so, it must consolidate its strongholds; it’s natural, and any other party that does a different thing is not in politics.

To blame six-piece voting for any election loss is to engage in a diversionary mantra. Even if elections are to be called tomorrow, I would advise my party to consolidate its strongholds before venturing out to conquer new frontiers.

ODM membership has continued to nose-dive. When did the rain start beating the once-vibrant party?

ODM numbers have increased in this Parliament. We are on an upward trajectory and as a coalition, we are the majority before this gerrymandering and cannibalism by the Speaker.

Does Raila Odinga intend to vie for the presidency again? If yes, does this affect succession politics in Nyanza?

I’m not a spokesman for Raila Odinga. I cannot speak for him authoritatively but I’m his loyal and ardent follower.

Is Kalonzo Musyoka being groomed?

No comment.

Is it true that Kenya Kwanza has reached out to Raila and if so, have any meetings been held?

I’m not privy to any such talks and discussions.

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