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Two Kenyan ministers were in limbo on Sunday night after the prime minister said he had suspended them over corruption allegations, only to be reprimanded hours later by the president, who said he did not have the power to do so.
Raila Odinga, prime minister, said on Sunday that he was suspending William Ruto, agriculture minister, and Sam Ongeri, education minister, after investigations had implicated them in corruption scandals over maize and aid for school fees.
On Sunday night, the presidential office of Mwai Kibaki rushed out a statement saying Mr Odinga had not consulted Mr Kibaki and did not have the authority to make a minister leave office. “Therefore, constitutionally, the two ministers remain in office,” it said.
The confusion laid bare divisions in the coalition government, formed in the aftermath of a disputed election and mass killings, and highlighted their potential to complicate efforts to rein in corruption.
On Saturday, Mr Kibaki had suspended eight government officials, including two of Mr Odinga’s advisers, over the same scandals.
The president’s office said the move to override the prime minister’s suspension of the ministers was a matter of following due process and “should not be interpreted in any way as undermining the ongoing war against corruption”.
Corruption has been endemic in Kenya for years. It emerged last year that Ks100m ($1.3m, €960,000, £840,000) provided by the UK and others to fund universal primary education had been embezzled.
While senior officials have previously been suspended for corruption, none has yet been prosecuted and some later returned to government jobs.
The US and Britain have both banned several Kenyan politicians from travelling to their countries because of corruption.
Optimists say the coalition formed to end a bloody post-election crisis two years ago could create a new dynamic if the president and prime minister became locked in a contest to show who could be toughest on graft. The weekend’s moves are seen as representing one of the most sweeping purges in recent years.
The $26m maize scandal, which has entangled Mr Ruto and other Odinga allies, involved the alleged misappropriation of food from the country’s reserve at a time when millions were facing chronic hunger.
None of those suspended has admitted wrongdoing.