Governors woo MCAs with cash and trips abroad
Dogged by threats of impeachment motions from their county assemblies, governors are on a charm offensive to pacify Members of County Assemblies (MCAs) who have demonstrated that they can end governors’ political careers or make the counties ungovernable.
One such strategy is the ward development fund, an idea most governors were opposed to at the beginning but which they have since warmed up to after realising that they could actually use the kitty to persuade MCAs to be a little more “forgiving” while playing their oversight role.
The Sunday Nation has learnt that most county chiefs are moving fast to boost the fund to avoid confrontation with members, to whose mercy they are now subject, despite constitutional bodies and the Controller of Budget saying such a fund is illegal.
The multi-billion-shilling kitty already established in almost all counties is seen by many as a ploy by governors to “keep MCAs busy” and avoid “unnecessary” scrutiny from them.
In Nairobi alone, about Sh1.7 billion has been earmarked for this. Machakos and Meru were among the first ones to allocate billions for the purpose of the kitty.
And in counties where the fund has not been set up, governors have devised various pseudo names for a similar kitty, where each MCA will control at least Sh4 million every financial year.
In some cases, the figure goes to as high as Sh30 million.
For instance, in Meru, Governor Peter Munya has given each of his MCAs close to Sh30 million while in Kitui, each of the 39 wards gets Sh4.3 million for infrastructure and other projects.
The same goes for Busia, where Sh350 million is being shared among the 35 elected MCAs.
Commentators on devolution reckon that the status of “new sheriffs in town” has seen the executive arm of county establishments adopt a more diplomatic approach towards the assemblies.
The bad blood between governors and the Senate, which has the final say on impeachment, has also created a sense of urgency for governors to reach out to the MCAs.
Commission on the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) chairman Charles Nyachae, however, says the decision to create ward funds amounts to an illegality.
“That the Assemblies can create a fund for wards is not in dispute. The issue here is that as currently crafted, the Acts are not consistent with the Constitution, and the Public Finance Management Act to be specific. It is outside of the assemblies’ roles on legislation and oversight because it introduces another component that is not in law: execution,” he said.
He told the Sunday Nation that the Bills give the MCAs a say in the nomination and final appointment of the Ward Development Committee, and allows them to sit in the committees as ex-officio members.
Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo has also raised similar reservations.
Embu Governor Martin Wambora’s impeachment (although he was later reinstated by court) and an attempt to kick out his Kericho counterpart Paul Chepkwony sent warning signals to most other governors.
Mr Tom Mboya from Maseno University’s Political Science Department says the two incidents were the turning point in terms of defining how governors relate with the MCAs.
“Immediately they were elected, some people who have not transited from the old system thought they were no more than former councillors. But the vigour with which they have since stamped their authority has made governors rethink how they relate with MCAs, and with some sense of respect if not fear,” he says.
He says the ward kitty is one such way of appealing to the MCAs so they can find favour in their eyes.
Other than the fund, governors are said have organised a number of foreign trips for the MCAs just to ensure they are “comfortable”.
And one line of defence for the governors over the spending spree by the MCAs has been that they (governors) do not control the assemblies’ budgets.
Israel has been one of the popular destinations of the civic leaders, but the trips have drawn wide public condemnation, with National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale saying some countries had written to the government banning huge delegations from visiting their countries due to unruliness.
One of the grievances listed by Makueni MCAs against their besieged Governor Kivutha Kibwanais his refusal to approve more money for them.
Prof Kibwana knows too well the price of standing in the way of an assembly when it is determined to get financial allocations. He is the latest governor who will be battling impeachment this month.
But Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya, who is also the vice-chair of the Council of Governors, has defended his colleagues against accusations that they are using the ward fund to lull the assemblies.
“The creation of special funds is not a way of bringing a closer relationship between governors and MCAs but one that is meant to improve on the livelihoods of the people. There is nothing wrong with it so long as it is done in accordance with Public Finance Management Act,” he said.
Although in Nairobi amendments were effected to remove MCAs from direct control of the fund, they will still be involved indirectly in its spending, including providing oversight, something that is still bound to raise concerns.
At the ward level, a committee elected by residents will determine projects to be undertaken and forward the list to the county management committee.
Each of the 85 wards is expected to get Sh20 million and Governor Evans Kidero signed the Bill at a time he was staring at the prospect of seeking re-election because of a petition filed by his challenger in the last General Election Ferdinand Waititu. He survived the petition.
APPROVED BY ASSEMBLIES
The Pesa Mashinani push by governors, where they want the annual financial allocation to counties increased to 45 per cent of the national budget from the current 15 per cent, also means they are in for a long dalliance with MCAs as such a move must first be approved by the assemblies before it can be subjected to a referendum.
Aside from the oversight role, MCAs are regarded as political pillars in building grassroots support because they have smaller political constituencies and are able to relate more directly with the electorate.
Senators are also considering a Bill where MCAs will not be held responsible for what they say within the precincts of county assemblies which, if passed into law, would certainly raise the powers exercised by the regional assemblies.
The County Assemblies Powers and Privileges Bill, which is in its second reading, also seeks to restore sanity in the county assemblies, where cases of fights have been witnessed, as it provides for a committee to discipline such members.
The proceedings or decisions of the county assemblies shall not be challenged in any court and no court orders shall be served within the precincts of the assembly while it is in session.
“No civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted against any member for words spoken before or written in a report to a county assembly or a committee,” the Bill, drafted by Senate Majority Leader Kithure Kindiki (Tharaka-Nithi), says.
A member shall not be liable for arrest for a civil debt while the member is going to, attending or returning from a sitting of a county assembly or a committee of the assembly.
The Bill provides that a person who assembles, demonstrates or pickets contrary to the established regulations may be removed from the precincts of a county assembly.
Prof Kindiki said parliamentary privileges and immunities are important to ensure effective discharge of functions at the counties.
“County assemblies are legislative governments of one level of government. They are not inferior governments,” he said.
However, the Bill does not exclude MCAs from being accountable, but shields them when discharging their functions in accordance with the law.
The Bill outlaws discussing matters active before the courts, and making utterances that are defamatory to those not in the House to defend themselves.
Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetang’ula (Bungoma, Ford-K) said the Bill replicates the powers and privileges of MPs, which have been cascaded down to the counties and members of county assemblies.
“The Bill is a beacon of security for MPs and we must give it to members of county assemblies. Fist-fights and flying chairs will be a thing of the past at the county assembly chambers,” said Mr Wetang’ula.
Senator Stephen Sang’ (Nandi, URP) reiterated Mr Wetang’ula’s remarks, and cited situations where members of the public or county assemblies had made attempts to raid assemblies to influence deliberations there.
“The impression that county assemblies are under the ambit of the governors is wrong. County assemblies are not part of the county executive and governors should not assume that they head the assemblies,” said Mr Sang’.