Kenya's Kenyatta chides opposition after speech disrupted

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 31, 2016 9:32 AM

By Duncan Miriri and George Obulutsa

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta challenged the opposition on Thursday to come up with alternative policies rather than indulging in the "sport" of criticising after whistling opposition lawmakers disrupted his annual speech to parliament.

Kenyatta cut short his address just after he started, when loud whistling began, forcing the speaker of the assembly to intervene and eject some opposition lawmakers.

"Criticism without alternatives is reckless political sport," the president said when calm returned to the chamber after half an hour and he continued speaking.

Close to 10 opposition legislators were forced by Speaker Justin Muturi to leave the session while one was dragged out by parliamentary orderlies, kicking and screaming, during the speech beamed on television across the nation.

The interruption was the first of its kind since early 2008, when parliament was disrupted by shouting and heckling after a disputed presidential election in December 2007.

"The president should not address the nation. He should first of all sort out the messes before he comes to address the nation," John Mbadi, an opposition lawmaker who was thrown out of the chambers, told reporters outside.

Kenyatta's government, which took office in April 2013, has been plagued by allegations of mismanagement and corruption affecting, among others, the National Youth Service job-creation programme and Mombasa port, the main gateway for imports.

Kenyans go to a general election in August next year and the World Bank warned on Thursday that risks associated with the vote could curb investments. [nL5N1730GM]

Kenyatta said there were 360 cases of corruption before the courts, some involving former ministers, and urged the judiciary to conclude them soon, to eliminate the perception that the accused were manipulating the system to escape justice.

"It is crucial that the judiciary reduces and eliminates the frivolous exploitation of legal technicalities to defeat the course of justice," he said.

The economy was expected to grow by 6 percent this year, faster than 5.8 percent last year, the president said.

"Inflation has remained under control and our foreign exchange reserves have improved significantly," he said.

He said all licensing fees and levies imposed on coffee farming would be removed immediately to boost farmers' revenue from the crop.

Although farming accounts for a quarter of economic output, bringing in the lion's share of hard currency, farmers complain that numerous taxes imposed on them and regulations curb their ability to earn from their land, holding back the entire economy.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Mukoya; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Richard Balmforth)