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Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

 

Only merit should count

By EDITORIAL
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The government’s rather cavalier handling of appointments to parastatals, other public organisations and commissions is a mockery of its oft-repeated commitment to ensuring merit and cutting wastefulness.

Sadly, despite frequent public outcry, these positions are still being used to reward sycophants, political cronies, friends, relatives or other busybodies.

This is a shame as these organisations are expected to play specialist roles in the various sectors and should, therefore, be populated only by people who can add value to the jobs.

But what we are increasingly seeing are appointments whose criteria are not clear. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s latest slate of appointments does not inspire confidence at all. He has, as has often happened in the past, filled his list of appointments with politicians who lost in last year’s General Election.

FRESH BLOOD

It is as if some individuals must always be catered for by the taxpayer whether we like it or not. There are definitely many other Kenyans who are more qualified than these people who have already had a chance to serve the country before, but will never be given a chance.

Even where the President has reached out for some fresh blood, it is quite clear that the decision was influenced not by their ability to add value to those positions, but by extraneous considerations. There is absolutely no reason why public appointments should be used to placate certain interests.

Indeed, at a time when the government is cash-strapped, it is callous to pile on new burden.

There has been past talk about parastatal reform, with a committee picked to evaluate and rationalise these organisations, through which the haemorrhaging of public funds continues.

DUPLICATING ROLES

In some sectors, including education, there are just too many of these organisations, which just end up duplicating roles.

The most logical thing is to merge some of these and disband others. The journey to a lean and efficient government that delivers the goods must begin with shedding of some of these organisations that are only notorious for mismanagement and embezzlement of public resources.

We must retain only parastatals that have a valuable role to play, and most importantly, give clear guidelines on the recruitment of directors and staff.

These positions must be advertised and competitively filled to give the very best an opportunity to compete for those slots.

The public sector must cease to be a cash cow for a few and a source of employment for the well-connected and be an avenue to identify, harness and reward talent that yields dividends.


Weakened House a big let-down for us all

By EDITORIAL
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The events of the past week should jolt Kenyans into reflecting on our system of governance and state of the economy.

Increasingly and steadily, the Executive has managed to emasculate the other arms of government and, inadvertently, we are relapsing to the era of powerful presidency without checks and balances.

During the controversial vote on Thursday on the memo by President Uhuru Kenyatta, who had rejected the Finance Bill passed earlier by Parliament, the Executive found its way through manipulation and coercion. MPs behaved badly when they realised they could not block passage of President Kenyatta’s proposals. But underneath that was a sense of frustration. The Executive is getting its way through the House.

POLITICAL TRUCE

Parliament, ideally the custodian of the public’s interest, has been weakened and rendered willingly or unwillingly an appendage of the Executive.

Since March when President Kenyatta and Opposition Leader Raila Odinga entered a political truce and undertook to co-operate and work together on matters of national interest, the spirit of opposition politics equally died.

In principle, the handshake was meant to cool down political temperatures and allow for reasoned debate on public matters.

But that did not mean killing the Opposition and reverting to the era of single party. It was not meant to cripple Opposition.

But what has happened is that the Opposition has been severely incapacitated. Opposition leaders inside and outside Parliament have abandoned their role and instead become protégés of the Executive.

REORGANISE GOVERNANCE

Matters have been made worse by the fact that erstwhile independent voices like the religious groups and civil society have also capitulated. It is dangerous scenario for the country.

The reason Kenyans fought vigorously for enactment of a new Constitution was to reorganise governance.

Years of imperial presidency had taught us that citizens risk losing civil liberties when powers are centred in the hands of an individual.

For this reason, the current Constitution created several centres of power, both at the national and county levels, essentially to provide checks and balances and promote good governance.

ECONOMIC TURBULENCE

Inevitably, the structure was bound to be expensive, as it has turned out to be, but the costs cannot be compared with the pain of dictatorship and repression that comes with imperial presidency.

We cannot countenance a situation where the Opposition is so ineffectual and does the bidding of the Executive. The end result is suffering for the public.

Following the proceedings in Parliament this week, the country is destined for economic turbulence.

The citizens have to brace up for high cost of living, depressed growth, poor infrastructure, unemployment and increased cases of insecurity.


Why Kofi Annan may need no introduction in Kenya

By ISAAC OTIDI AMUKE
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On stepping down as UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan and his wife Nane borrowed a friend’s house next to a forest in Como, Italy, where they intended to stay for three months, to recharge after what had been an illustrious diplomatic career.

The plan was for them to cut off contact with the world, meaning no radio, TV or newspaper.

They would maintain a simple routine, mainly taking long walks in the forest. However, after three weeks, Annan developed the urge to read a newspaper.

He, therefore, broke his own seclusion rule, bringing with him the small group they were staying with, making their way to the nearest convenience store.

As they were walking, a man seeming to recognise Annan made for the group.

‘‘Mr Morgan Freeman,’’ the man said, ‘‘could you please sign for me an autograph?’’

SIGN AUTOGRAPH

Annan couldn’t believe his luck. He had panicked as the man approached, regretting that he had blown his cover.

But seeing that the man mistook him for actor Morgan Freeman – whose features remotely resembled Annan’s – the former Secretary-General gladly signed the autograph.

‘‘K. Freeman,’’ wrote Annan, possibly an inside joke for Kofi Freeman, a new moniker.

After the incident, Annan’s wife Nane remarked that indeed that was the right way to sign the autograph, since Annan was now a free man, away from his UN responsibilities.

Annan liked telling this story whenever he made public appearances – emphasising that he didn’t assume everyone knew him – urging those introducing him to audiences not to make the “here is a man who needs no introduction” presumption.

POST-ELECTION VIOLENCE

Yet in Kenya, Annan is someone who may need no introduction.

Following the 2007/2008 post-election violence, Annan midwifed talks which culminated in Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga shaking hands at Harambee House, signifying a ceasefire.

Sticking to his approach of full disclosure, Annan became a common feature on Kenyan media, thanks to his periodic press briefings as the country held its breath, hoping for a breakthrough. There was even that one time Annan was caught on camera taking an evening walk around Central Park, behind the Serena Hotel, still dressed in a suit and tie.

Wearing sunglasses and with bodyguards in tow, Annan looked more like a lead detective in a Hollywood movie – more like his lookalike Morgan Freeman – than a member of The Elders, the global collective of eminent persons.

MEDIATION PROCESS

There is no doubt that the Annan-engineered Kibaki-Raila handshake meant a lot to Kenya. However, the success of that particular mediation process meant even more to Annan, whose past at the UN was riddled with accusations of not having done enough in instances where he’s believed to have had the power to, including in Rwanda’s case in 1994.

Working as Assistant Secretary-General heading the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at the UN, Annan was accused of either not having taken seriously the initial reports originating from Rwanda, or having taken too long to act in preventing the genocide.

In his defence, Annan insisted that much as he wished the UN could have done more, critics needed to be alive to the convoluted bureaucracy within the organisation – which made decision making take longer – coupled with the eternal challenge of inadequate resources.

Annan argued that the UN’s Force Commander in Rwanda, Romeo Dallaire – Annan’s personal friend – needed 5,000 soldiers for him to make an intervention, but had only 2,500 troops.

WITHDRAW SOLDIERS

In Annan’s words, the soldiers were ‘‘too few to act and too many to hide,’’ opining that it was risky to put the lives of the troops on the line when the UN felt ill-equipped.

Observing that member states would have withdrawn their soldiers were there to be casualties due to the UN’s unpreparedness, Annan cited the case of the US pulling out of Somalia earlier in 1993, following the killing of 19 of its soldiers in what became the Black Hawk Down movie.

So when he became Secretary-General, and in wanting to do more, one of the concepts Annan pushed for was the Responsibility to Protect, or simply R2P.

Adopted by UN member states in 2005, the facility sought to allow for the immediate overruling of a country’s claim to sovereignty – prescribing urgent external intervention – were risks of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and/or crimes against humanity to be ascertained.

In mourning Kofi Annan, Kenya should remember how much it meant to the man, and keep the peace.


Kenya flies high in air safety but stumbles at crash investigation

About a third of the aircraft crashes occur on the runway during landings and take-offs

By JOSHUA MUTISYA

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Air travel in Kenya has seen improvements in the past few years but the country’s ability to properly investigate air crashes lags, a Nation Newsplex review of air safety data reveals.

Kenya’s air safety score was 78 percent in 2017, a 16 percent improvement from 2008, according to data from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The score places it seventh in Africa and at position 67 out of 185 states in the world.

ICAO’s Universal State Oversight Audit Programme measures a nation’s air safety based on eight factors: air crash investigations, civil aviation organisation, airfields and ground aids, aviation legislation, aircraft operations, air navigation services, personnel licensing and training, and airworthiness of civil aircrafts.

Kenya’s best mark was in aircraft airworthiness, in which it scored 95 percent. Airfields and ground aids came in second with 87 percent whereas personal licensing and training had 83 percent.

Despite Kenya’s impressive show overall, it scored a paltry 40 percent in air crash investigations, the lowest score of the eight factors assessed. Without any reports on major improvements in this area in the two years after the audit was completed, this implies that the country is yet to provide effective processes to ensure proper investigations of air crash incidents.

Insufficient training on air crash investigation contributes to flaws such as lack of timely launching of investigations, failure to preserve essential volatile evidence and poor management of investigations, as well as weak investigation results and safety recommendations.

According to the audit report released in 2018, about two-thirds of ICAO member states were yet to establish standard investigation procedures, with a similar proportion lacking adequate training programmes for their aircraft accident investigators.

“A significant safety concern does not necessarily indicate a particular safety deficiency in the air navigation service providers, but rather points to the State not providing sufficient safety oversight to ensure the effective implementation of applicable ICAO standards,” states the report.
More fatalities
A Newsplex examination of data on aircraft crashes from the Transport ministry indicates that an estimated 111 crashes occurred in Kenya since 2010. The crashes range from minor to serious incidents, and from training flights, to private, cargo and commercial flights. A total of 14 of the crashes were fatal resulting in 38 deaths.
During the period under review, the year 2016 had the highest number of aircraft crashes at 26, followed by 2014 with 18. However, even though the year is not yet over, 2018 leads in deaths, at 10, followed by 2017 with five.

The 2018 tragedy involved a Fly-SAX plane with the 10 people on board crashing into Elephant Hill in the Aberdare Ranges. Preliminary investigations pointed to a combination of the crew’s unfamiliarity with the route and poor visibility due to foggy weather as the causes of the crash. All passengers and crew on board died.

In October last year, a helicopter with five occupants crashed into Lake Nakuru, killing everyone on board.

The aviation safety ranking also shows Kenya topping in Eastern Africa. Rwanda comes second, with 74 percent followed by Ethiopia (69 percent), Tanzania (64 percent), Uganda (61 percent) and Burundi (26 percent). There is yet to be an audit result for South Sudan.

Globally, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) leads with 99 percent, followed closely by South Korea (98.5 percent), Singapore (98 percent), France (96 percent) and Canada (95 percent).

The best-ranked African country is South Africa with 87 percent followed by Mauritania (86 percent) and Togo (85 percent).

Djibouti lags behind the rest of the world at four percent, followed by the Cook Islands (5.6 percent), Haiti (six percent), the Central African Republic (seven percent) and Guinea-Bissau (11 percent).

Kenya is also among 48 percent of the 185 ICAO member states whose air safety score is above the global average of 65 percent.

The number of airfields increased by nine percent from 450 in 2013 to 491 in 2017, according to the Economic Survey 2018. This is linked to the government’s initiative of equipping every county with a functional airstrip. On the other hand, aviation personnel licences increased by six percent from 9,059 in 2016 to 9,577 in the same period.

Kenya’s other strengths were air navigation services (83 percent) and legislation and civil aviation regulations (76 percent).

Timely progress

This progress is vital, coming at a time when the country is increasing its competitiveness at providing superior customer experiences through its flights and services.

In 2016, the US Federal Aviation Administration blacklisted Kenya’s airspace as a conflict zone in what it termed as the “possibility of extremist or militant activity.”

However, the US Government reviewed this classification in 2017 and declared that the country met all ICAO standards of aviation safety.

This new status rewarded Kenya Airways the rights to operate direct flights to the United States, with the maiden trip expected in October this year.
Runway incidents
Globally, more than half (55 percent) of the crashes in 2017 were incidents on the runway and they claimed six percent of the deaths. A fifth of the incidents involved pilots losing control of aircraft in the air, which led to 12 percent of the deaths.

Despite having the least share of occurrences (one percent), cases of aircraft being flown into terrain, water or obstacles accounted for three in four of deaths in air crashes globally in 2017.

In Kenya, about a third of the aircraft crashes occur on the runway, during landings and take-offs, as a result of landing gear faults, overshooting the runway, or intrusions on the runway.

Engine failures account for a fifth of these accidents, followed by loss of control and ground incidents, at eight percent each. Crashes into obstacles accounted for seven percent of the incidents and over half of the fatalities (53 percent).

Insufficient training on air crash investigation contributes to flaws such as lack of timely launching of investigations, failure to preserve essential volatile evidence and poor management of investigations, as well as weak investigation results and safety recommendations.

Investigations are crucial in identifying grey areas which can be addressed and help in preventing more accidents.

Probes were concluded in two of the five crashes reported, and recommendations made by the Air Accident Investigation Department.

The global air accident rate increased by 14 percent from 2.1 accidents per million take-offs in 2016 to 2.4 accidents per a million departures in 2017, according to the ICAO Aviation Safety Report 2018.
Globally, the year 2014 had the highest number of deaths from commercial plane crashes in the past five years, at 911. This dropped by 95 percent to 50 in 2017, making it the safest year for air travel.


‘Subira’ made into a full film

By HILLARY KIMUYU
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Subira was first screened as a short film in 2008 and was a tremendous success in Europe, after being screened in Brussels as part of an African film festival.

It won 15 international awards and now Kenyans will get to see the feature of the film, which has been made to a full-length movie.

Raised in an orthodox Muslim community in the remote island of Lamu, her tyrannical mother wants Subira to follow tradition; learn household chores and aim to be a good wife just like the rest and forget to live out her unique dream of swimming in the ocean. Does she have the courage to take her dream on, against all odds?

Sippy Chadha, the director of the film, says Subira’s story comes from a place of deep personal experience.

She recalls that while growing up as a girl, in a traditional family in India, her entire life was laid out in front of her.

“I must behave a certain way, look a certain way, marry into a certain family, have children – in that order. There wasn’t any significance given to my unique sense of self; girls must obey to be considered good.

“The ultimate goal of a woman was to aspire to keep a good home. Yet, I felt a murmuring in my heart that said, I was meant for greater things.”

Sippy started her career with such award winning short films as Kibera Kid (2007), Charcoal Traffic (2008), Tick Tock (2009) and Subira (2008) which she wrote, directed and produced.

Sippy was taken to a boarding school in Britain at the age of five until she graduated from Class 10.

“As I came of age, I started to get offers of marriage, as is our custom. This was my deepest fear. I saw marriage as a trap. I had seen many of my cousins go through marriage, giving up their dreams and becoming totally domesticated. When it was my turn to get married, I did go through an arranged marriage and came to Kenya in a matter of weeks.”

But Sippy only took the decision to make film after turning 40 and feeling empty.

In 2004, while working at Mutual Trust as a financial adviser, she packed all the client files in a suitcase, drove over to her boss and asked if she would like to take over her clients.

“My husband was surprised by my actions but I love him because he lets me be me. I can say in my deepest fears I found my largest freedom. Filming Subira has been my dream; having the whole world see my point of view.”

The film is a Kenyan-Danish production releasing in Nairobi on November 15 and stars Brenda Wairimu, Tirath, Nice Githinji, and Melvin Alusa.

“My work as a filmmaker is to expand consciousness such that we may break through our own limitations and live from a sense of aliveness.”


Top judge accuses police, NTSA of doing little to curb road carnage

By JOSEPH WANGUI
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High Court Judge Samuel Ndung’u Mukunya, 67, was on Saturday buried at his Nyeri home as the Judiciary hit out at the police and National Transport and Safety Authority for doing little to curb road carnage.

Justice Mukunya, who died last week in a crash on Nyeri-Nyahururu road, was eulogised as an honest man and one of many judicial officers committed to clearing case backlogs.

Mukunya worked at the Environment and Lands Court in Kerugoya having been transferred from Bungoma in April, this year.

During the funeral service held at ACK’s St Peters Church in Nyeri town, the President of the Court of Appeal William Ouko called for measures to reduce road fatalities.

“There are too many people dying and there is little happening on changing of policies on roads. By August this year 1,800 people had died due to road accidents and the number is likely to be high by end of the year,” said Justice Ouko.

During the service which was attended by scores of judicial staff, among them judges, magistrates and lawyers, Mr Ouko accused the police and NTSA of not doing enough to save lives on the Kenyan roads.

Chief Justice David Maraga, on his part, eulogized Mukonya as a performer for clearing backlog of land cases in Kerugoya and Bungoma court stations.

“Land cases form the backlog and I promised to clear it before end of this year. I had earmarked Justice Mukunya for relocation to Nairobi for one month to clear the backlog there,” said the CJ Maraga.

He made the remarks after Kerugoya High Court presiding judge Lucy Gitari said for the three months Mukunya had worked in the local Lands court, he had cleared 178 cases. The cases had been in the court process for over five years.

“He encouraged mediation and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, especially those involving families,” said Ms Gitari.

Justice Gitari said Mukunya discouraged adjournment of cases and persuaded lawyers to comply with civil procedure rules to ensure expeditious disposal of cases.

“His motto was ‘Let us work. That is why we are here’,” said Justice Gitari.

The principal judge of the Environment and Land Court Samson Odhiambo Okong’io said the Mukunya cleared 85 per cent of the backlog cases in Bungoma land court, a feat he repeated in Kerugoya.

Other notable mourners present included Senior Counsel Fred Ngatia, Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga, former Senator Mutahi Kagwe, National Cohesion and Integration Commission chair Francis ole Kaparo and MPs Ngunjiri Wambugu (Nyeri town), Babu Owino (Eambakasi East) and Wambugu Munene (Kirinyaga Central).

Mukunya is survived by his wife Nancy Wanjiru and five children. He was appointed a judge in 2012 and served in Mombasa until September 2014 when he was transferred to Bungoma.

Prior to his appointment, Justice Mukunya practiced as an advocate but also served as a judge of the Interim Independent Constitutional Dispute Resolution Court (IICDRC) in 2010.

He was among five judges sitting in the dispute resolution court that allowed prisoners to take part in the 2010 constitutional referendum. Others in the panel were Justices Sankale ole Kantai, Scholastica Omondi, Jamila Mohammed and Mburugu M’Nkanata.

The judges’ decision followed a case filed by inmates against the electoral commission, challenging their exclusion from the process.


Kimutai and Jepkorir top in anti-rabies run

By BERNARD ROTICH
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Former Rotterdam Marathon champion Marius Kimutai ex-World Half Marathon Championships bronze medallist Pascalia Jepkorir won the second edition of the Rabies Free Kenya 10km Road Run held in Nandi County on Saturday.

Kimutai faced stiff competition from former Daegu Marathon champion Matthew Kisorio and Edward Kibet. He held them off to win the race in 27:07.2. Kisorio came in second, clocking 27:14.6 with Kibet rounding out the podium in 27:37.9.

“The race was tough but my good preparations helped me. We were competing with some of the best marathoners and I’m happy to have won,” said Kimutai, who is aiming to compete in an international marathon this season.

“I was not ready for the race and my last minute decision brought good results. I was using it as part of my preparations to participate in this year’s Valencia Marathon,” said the Kapsabet-based Kisorio.

Fresh from finishing second at the Chemususu Dam Half Marathon, Jepkorir ran shoulder-to-shoulder with Jepkemei after taking the lead four kilometres into the race.

With 500m to go, she outsmarted Joyce Chepkemei with 500m and win in 32:12.0. Chepkemei was second in 32:22.0 with Betty Lembus third in 32:42.0.

“I was using the race to taste waters as I am going to China for a marathon and this was part of my training,” said Jepkorir.

The race, which is part of a campaign to create awareness of rabies across the country, was started by Sharon Live On Foundation spearheaded by Barnabas Korir whose daughter Sharon was bitten by a dog in 2004 and later succumbed to the disease.

“We are using the race to sensitise the public about the dangers of dog bites. We are happy the national and county governments are supporting us. We shall be going to different counties in a bid to popularise the initiative,” said Korir.


Harambee Stars striker lands lucrative deal

By VINCENT OPIYO
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Harambee Stars striker Masud Juma on Saturday completed his move to United Arab Emirates side Dibba Al-Fujairah Club on a short term deal.

Juma, 22, parted ways with South African side Cape Town City after a proposed loan deal to Egyptian side El Gouna fell through.

The move ends his week-long sojourn in Asia where he has been club hunting. Initially he was set to join Oman side Dhofar but the move hit a snag after both parties failed to agree on personal terms, according to the player’s handlers.

Dibba Club plays in the Arabian Gulf League and finished ninth on the 2017/18 season. They are currently second last on the 14-team log with no point after three rounds.

The club, founded in 1976, lost 3-2 to Emirates in their last league match on Thursday. They play their home matches at a 10,645-seater Fujairah Club Stadium.

Juma, who won the Kenyan Premier League Golden Boot last season while featuring for Kariobangi Sharks will hope to rediscover himself and return to the national team.


KPA, Strathmore register wins

By CAXTON APOLLO
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By PHILIP ONYANGO
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Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) teams were made to fight for every point before registering wins over United States International University (USIU) teams in National Classic basketball league matches at the KPA hall in Makande, Mombasa County on Saturday.

While the women’s team rallied from behind to beat USIU Flames 56-28, the men had to wait for the last quarter to win 68-58 in balanced and entertaining matches which kept fans at the edge of their seats.

League action continues Sunday when KPA women play KU Oryx and KPA men tackle Ulinzi at 2.00pm and 4.00pm respectively.

In Nairobi, Strathmore University Swords kept alive their chances of qualifying for this year’s women’s Kenya Basketball Premier League play-offs when they demolished winless Western Delight 56-14.

The students raced to an 18-4 advantage in the first quarter and led 35-10 at the half. The return leg match played at USIU-A, saw Strathmore Swords relax their aggressive offense in the last two quarters but they still ran over Western Delight 11-2 and 10-2 in the third and fourth.

In another top women’s Premier League tie at the same venue, Footprints revived their play-off hopes by registering a narrow 55-54 victory over unlucky Eagle Wings. Eagle Wings, who had veteran Rebecca Sarange scoring 13 points, should blame themselves for throwing away the victory after enjoying a huge 37-22 half-time lead.

Footprints led by Faith Ayodi, who scored a game-high 22 points, re-grouped in the two final quarters to punish Eagle Wings 16-14 and 17-13, for a much deserved victory.

Strathmore University teams were on a roll as their women’s Division One side also beat Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) 61-36.

Little Prince kept up their winning ways to overcome newcomers Woodley Knights 75-64. Riara University suffered their second consecutive defeat in their women’s Division Two league as they were rocked 69-45 by JKUAT.


Vatican announces historic deal with China on bishops

By AFP
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The Vatican on Saturday announced a historic accord with China on the appointment of bishops in the Communist country as Pope Francis recognised seven Beijing-appointed bishops in a move that could pave the way for a rapprochement between the Catholic Church and the world’s most populous country.

Beijing immediately said it hoped for better relations, while Taiwan said its ties with the Vatican were safe despite the deal with China.

There are an estimated 12 million Catholics in China divided between a government-run association whose clergy are chosen by the Communist Party and an unofficial church which swears allegiance to the Vatican.

BIBLE CLAMPDOWN

The Vatican has not had diplomatic relations with Beijing since 1951, two years after the founding of the communist People’s Republic.

This year, churches have been destroyed in some Chinese regions and there has been a clampdown on Bible sales. Crosses have been removed from church tops, printed religious materials and holy items confiscated, and church-run kindergartens closed.

The preliminary agreement with China “has been agreed following a long process of careful negotiation and foresees the possibility of periodic reviews of its application,” the Vatican said in a statement issued as Pope Francis began a visit to the Baltic states.

“It concerns the nomination of Bishops, a question of great importance for the life of the Church, and creates the conditions for greater collaboration at the bilateral level,” it said.

OVERCOME PAST

Pope Francis meanwhile recognised seven bishops who had been ordained in China without the approval of the Holy See, his office said.

“Pope Francis hopes that, with these decisions, a new process may begin that will allow the wounds of the past to be overcome, leading to the full communion of all Chinese Catholics,” a statement said.

The decision also readmits an eighth bishop who died last year and “had expressed the desire to be reconciled with the Apostolic See,” it said.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke, speaking in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, told reporters the aim of the accord “is not political but pastoral, allowing the faithful to have bishops who are in communion with Rome but at the same time recognised by Chinese authorities.”

IMPROVED TIES

China said the “provisional” agreement was signed in Beijing by vice foreign minister Wang Chao and a Vatican delegation headed by the under secretary for relations with state, Antoine Camilleri, and added that the two sides “will continue to maintain communication and push forward the improvement of bilateral relations”.

The Vatican is one of only 17 countries around the world that recognises Taipei instead of Beijing but Pope Francis has sought to improve ties with China since he took office in 2013.

Previous attempts to restore ties foundered over Beijing’s insistence that the Vatican must give up recognition of its rival Taiwan and promise not to interfere in religious issues in China.

But the Taiwanese foreign ministry said Taipei would not lose its only diplomatic ally in Europe despite the agreement and said it hoped the Holy See would also make sure Catholics on the mainland “receive due protection and not be subject to repression”.

STATE-RUN CHURCH

Analysts warn that Beijing could use the accord to further crack down on Catholic faithful in China.

Jonathan Sullivan, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham, described the accord as “a strategic move on China’s part; and a naive one on the Vatican’s”.

According to the expert, China’s Communist party will frame the deal as the Vatican’s seal of approval to the state-run Catholic Church, at a time when Christian believers are facing a severe crackdown on their beliefs and practises.

“Ultimately, the Party would like to subsume all forms of worship under state organs that make it easier to manage and ensure that everyone’s primary loyalty is to the state,” Sullivan told AFP.

The announcement came as Pope Francis arrived in Catholic Lithuania to honour victims, including Catholic priests and bishops, of the region’s Nazi and Soviet occupations.

The pontiff’s four-day trip to the northeastern edge of the European Union and NATO alliance brings him geographically close to Russia, where Vatican diplomats have been trying for years to arrange a papal visit.

The pontiff will visit mainly Protestant Latvia on Monday and secular Estonia on Tuesday as all three Baltic states mark 100 years of independence this year.

But the celebrations risk being overshadowed by a fresh wave of devastating claims of sexual abuse by clergy across the globe.