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Governors make good threat on counties paralysis

By Eric Wainaina
Friday, September 18th, 2020
Council of Governors members, led by chairman Wycliffe Oparanya (centre), address the press in the past. Photo/PD/File
In summary

Eric Wainaina @EWainaina

A battle line was drawn yesterday between the Executive and governors after several county governments shut down operations, and sent employees home citing lack of funds to run the devolved units.

The move by the county governments came only hours after the leadership of the Senate majority and minority issued a terse letter to Council of Governors (CoG) chairman Wycliffe Oparanya warning against any move that could cripple operations in the counties.

The letter, signed by Majority Leader Samuel Poghisio and his minority counterpart James Orengo, was followed by pleas from Deputy President William Ruto and Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, who pleaded with the governors to “exercise restraint” over the matter.

“You are aware of the steps being taken to resolve the revenue sharing formula.

Indeed, you have played a key part in the process. Debate and resolution in the Senate in accordance with Article 217 of the Constitution is on course,” read the letter signed by Poghisio and Orengo.

“Members have generally agreed on the way forward in the Kamukunji meeting held on Wednesday.

Please, do not take any precipitate that would affect services in the counties,” the letter concluded in a thinly veiled warning to the Kakamega county boss.

Exercise restraint

The two House leaders were referring to a meeting chaired by President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga at State House Nairobi on Tuesday and which Oparanya attended, to thrash out a deal on the revenue sharing formula.

It is during this meeting that a deal to increase county funding by Sh50 billion from next year was agreed upon, only for Oparanya to declare a near total shutdown in all the 47 counties over the lack of funds, a day later.

Poghisio and Orengo appeared to take issue with Oparanya, who is Raila’s deputy in the ODM party for leading a rebellion against Uhuru and Raila, despite being part of the State House resolution.

Yesterday, Ruto also weighed in, pleading with the governors to reconsider decision to shut down counties.

“No county should be shut down because there is a way they can receive resources,” Ruto said at his Karen residence.

Wamalwa asked the governors to exercise restraint.

He added: “It is important for the governors to exercise patience to allow Senate to consider the proposals of intervention of by the President that commits to increase the allocation of equitable share of revenue to counties by a further Sh54 billion in the financial year 2021/22 and which, will no doubt unlock the impasse.”

But governors from across the regions went ahead to shut down operations in their counties in solidarity with Oparanya, vowing to resume operations once the stalemate is cleared.

“From today, the county government of Meru is shutting down all its operations, as guided by the county secretary in a circular which was sent out.

All our members of staff will have to stay at home and not provide any services to this county for the next two weeks, unless we save money in between.

We have taken this painful and drastic decision because we have no money and we cannot continue to run the county without money,” said Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi.

He added: “So as the county governor, this is my last day here in office. The decision to shut down counties have not been taken by Oparanya as the chair of the council.

This decision was made by all the governors in a meeting with the council of governors  last week in Nairobi.”

Governor Alfred Mutua of Machakos also announced that his county had gone on lockdown due to lack of cash, saying it was no longer tenable to retain his workers yet he has not paid them salaries.

“Effective September 17, 2020, all non-essential services are hereby suspended and county employees are advised to proceed on leave for two weeks or until further advised,” read part of the circular dated September 16.

Financial crisis

His Nakuru counterpart Lee Kinyanjui said: “I will convene an emergency Cabinet meeting on September 18, to discuss Nakuru County’s position on matters arising from the COG chairman communiqué”.

On his part, Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria lamented that workers at the devolved unit have not been paid for three months, subjecting them to a lot of suffering and making it impossible for them to deliver services.

Kisumu’s Anyang’ Nyong’o said counties have been plunged into financial crisis.

 “It is now three months of waiting on the revenue issue, things have fallen apart and the ground cannot hold anymore.

Wananchi should know that the responsibility lies squarely in the hand of the Senate and not in the 47 county governments,” Prof Nyong’o said.

However, Mandera’s Ali Roba and his Laikipia counterpart Ndiritu Muriithi said health services would not be affected in their counties.

“Mandera County government will continue with all its operations in delivering services to the people fully and will continue partnering with our commercial banks to support salaries on overdraft,” he said.

Speaking on Wednesday at his Nanyuki office after attending a virtual meeting of the CoG, the Treasury, the Attorney General and the Controller of Budget, Governor Muriithi said that health services were critical and would therefore remain operational especially at such a time that the country was battling Covid-19 infections. - Additional reporting by Wangari Njuguna and Noven Awiti